Happy Three Kings Day, everyone! Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany by giving each other underwear or iPhones, (depending on how much your parents love you). Epiphany commemorates the day when the Three Wise Men, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, brought gifts to the baby Jesus. If you remember your Sunday school, they gave Jesus the useless gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, (whatever the hell that is). Every year at my Catholic school, I played Gaspar in the school’s Epiphany and Nativity plays. Gaspar is usually Black, but I guess me being Latino was close enough. Through the centuries, Three Kings Day has become a traditional gift giving holiday. In my house, I always got things like tube socks and notebooks for Three Kings, (I was Gaspar! I deserved more than a $3.99 bag of socks from Wal-Mart!). We thought we’d tell you a few of the weirder Three Kings traditions from around Latin America.
In many countries around the world, it is traditional to leave some grass and water out for the Three King’s camels. They did just travel from Mesopotamia to San Juan, after all. Usually, the grass and water are left by the front door. Not so in Puerto Rico. The Boricuas put the grass under their beds. Do you really want a big stinky camel in your room? Who’s going to clean up after it? Personally, I don’t want to wake up on January 6th to clean up camel poop.
One of the most beloved Mexican traditions is the Rosca de Rey, or traditional Three Kings sweet bread. This practice of baking a special cake or pastry for Three Kings is popular throughout Europe. Usually, a small plastic baby Jesus or bean is baked into the cake. The tradition originated in France, where whoever found the bean was king or queen for the day. Judging from what they did to the last royal couple they had, I’d hope I didn’t get that piece, Pierre.
Much like the Dutch, the Argentinians put their shoes out for the Wise Men to fill with treats. What I never understood about this practice is why I would want to eat anything that has been in my shoes? On the inside it’s filled with bacteria from my stanky feet and the outside is a petri dish of diseases I get from walking around New York City. Can you just leave the treats in the mailbox for me, Balthazar?
In Spain they also leave out their shoes, but before they do they participate in a unique tradition: The Three Kings Day Shoe Shine. Parents and kids first shine their shoes before putting them out for the Three Kings. This makes sense. They are kings, after all. Do you really want them to see the scuffs on your new black Cole Hann slip-ons that happened when you were drunk and tripped over a homeless guy?
In Chile, another name for Three Kings Day is “La Pascua De Los Negros”, or “The Holy day of the Blackmen”. The reason for this is that in colonial times, Spanish masters would give their African slaves the day off on Three Kings Day. The practice developed over the years of having black nativity scenes and Three Kings parades. Unfortunately, these were often performed by white men in blackface rather than by Afro-Chileans. Needless to say, the tradition is dying out.