In some Latin American countries like Argentina, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Paraguay and Uruguay, children don’t await Santa Claus with the same breathless anticipation as children in the United States. Instead, if they’ve been good boys and girls, their gifts will come on January 6th, brought by Los Reyes Magos (The Three Wise Men, but literally "The Magic Kings") and left in or near shoes. If they’ve been naughty… well, gifts aren’t the only things Los Reyes Magos have in common with Santa!
As technology continues to bombard the world with American culture, many Latino families are adding Santa Claus to their Christmas celebrations. However, if Santa brings toys, Los Reyes Magos will still come bearing small gifts such as candy or trinkets.
Part of raising dual kids is making sure that traditions belonging to that language group are recognized and honored. It is for this reason that we suggest including Los Reyes Magos in dual family holiday celebrations.
Photo from projectpartystudio.com
At this point, you’re probably asking, “Okay, but just who are Los Reyes Magos?”
If you’re familiar with the Christmas story, you’ll remember that leading up to Jesus’ birth in a manger in Bethlehem, a great star appeared in the eastern sky. The star was so bright that it was seen all over the world. Closer to home, angels visited shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, but far away in the Orient, it was the appearance of the star that heralded the great miracle.
The Three Wise Men – Los Reyes Magos or Los Tres Reyes Magos – knew the star was important, and so they traveled long and far to reach Bethlehem. Each of the Magos bore a special gift: Gaspar brought frankincense, which smells nice and is still used in making perfumes today; Balthazar brought myrrh, which also smells nice and has historical medical significance; and Melchior brought gold – because who couldn’t use a little extra gold?
In some Latin American countries, the day before El Dia De Reyes is a day of feasting and festivity. Often in larger communities, the gala occasion is celebrated in a park or market square. In those cases, there are food vendors, pinatas, and merrymaking, and children are able to have pictures made with Los Reyes Magos.
Photo from Dondeir.com
Mexico shares the Spanish tradition of “La Rosca de Reyes," which translates to "ring of the kings." This tradition started by including some broad beans in the oval cake. The rule was that whoever got the piece with the broad bean was named the King of Disorder and was in charge of the festivities that day. The broad beans were later changed to porcelain baby Jesus figures because people who wanted to skip the responsibilities of the festivities would simply eat the bean.
Nowadays in Mexico “La Rosca de Reyes” is eaten on January 5th. If you get the baby Jesus (which is now made out of plastic) from the cake, you are responsible for bringing tamales and atole on Feb 2nd when the day of the Mullein is celebrated. It’s been said that getting the baby Jesus is good luck and that it will bring you prosperity the entire year.
A few days before Epiphany (also known as El Dia De Reyes), children write letters to Los Reyes Magos. Some children write to all three; other children have one particular Rey Mago as a favorite. Just like Santa letters, Los Reyes Magos letters are written to request gifts. Sometimes, the letters are attached to helium balloons and sent to Los Reyes Magos. ***We do want to point out that releasing helium balloons poses an ecological hazard because birds and other animals eat the balloons and get sick.***
Photo from lleuredosmil.com
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not (and even if you're not Christian - as we are not), writing letters to Los Reyes Magos can be a fun cultural experience for your dual family. There are many great resources available to get you going. I’ve located a free downloadable letter template on the Mamiverse Blog – it’s available in English and Spanish, so your dual kid's younger siblings or cousins can also participate.
Spanish letter template here!
English letter here!