“We put out our shoes and in the middle of the night the three kings come and put gifts in them … and maybe a chocolate,” says Mercedes Heide. Mercedes is an 8-year-old Argentine slightly obsessed with chocolate. She, her brother Felipe (6), and her sister Amalia (10) are telling me how they celebrate Three Kings Day in Argentina.
In the southern hemisphere, January 6th falls in the middle of the summer when the kids are out of school. The three Heides often spend the day in a kiddie pool on their back patio in Buenos Aires. Their parents get the day off and grandparents and cousins come by for a backyard barbeque and a little Rosca de Reyes – Three Kings Day traditional bread.
Though for those living outside Latin America, Three Kings Day, a holiday celebrated with such dedication throughout Latin America, Spain and Portugal, may be a mystery. The day celebrates the three wise men, or magi, and their pilgrimage following the star of David to Bethlehem, the site of Christ's birth. The twelve days of Christmas, often thought to end on the 25th of December, actually begin on the 25th and end on the 6th. This twelve day period marks the journey of the three kings who came to the Christ child offering gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Throughout Latin America, Three Kings Day rivals Christmas as the most important day for gift giving. Like the Heide kids, Latin children leave their shoes out on the eve, along with grass and water for the wise men's camels -- a cute twist on milk and cookies for Santa and his reindeer tradition. In the morning, assuming the children have been good all year, they will wake up to sweets and gifts. Of course, all Latin children try to stay up to catch a glimpse of the three kings, and anticipation builds through the dawn. The Heides are quick to remind me that Three Kings is a strictly kids-only holiday.
“Once you’re 15 you don’t get presents anymore,” says Amalia. Felips concurs. “Last year papá and mamá put out their shoes and the three kings left them potatoes … and a note saying they were too old.”
Next, celebrating Three Kings Day across Latin America...