The Three Wise Men are a Christmas tradition that is celebrated in many corners of the world. But… what is their origin?
The Gospel tells us that the star of Bethlehem, which we hang on our trees or nativity scenes, guided the Kings in their search for the newborn baby Jesus. When they reached the portal, they gave him gold, incense and myrrh as a symbolic gift. Gold is a royal metal, frankincense is a religious offering, and myrrh is associated with prosperity and is said to herald her destiny and death. There is controversy and it is not very clear what it really means.
It was not until the Middle Ages that they began to be referred to as Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar.
At Hostandboat we love to travel, and on dates as full of excitement as this one, even more so. And what better travel companion than the Three Kings? We will take you on a tour of the traditions of their majesties so that you can see how they are received by the families of the world.
On 6 January, in many places in Europe, their initials were written on the doors to chase away evil spirits and witches. However, the most curious traditions are the following.
The night of January 5th is magical in Spain, for children and adults alike.
Children write letters to the King and Queen telling them how good they have been – or acknowledging some slip-up – and ask them for the gifts they most desire. To the good one, their wishes are granted. To the bad or mischievous one, they bring coal (although sweet, of course).
On the 5th and 6th, it is the day of the Cabalgatas: the kings go out into the streets of Spain to throw sweets at the children and collect the letters from the children who have not yet been able to send them.
Another Spanish tradition from those days is the Roscón de Reyes, a sweet that can be filled with cream, cream or even truffle and has two surprises inside: a bean and a little figure. Whoever gets the bean has to pay for the sweet, and whoever gets the figure will be crowned.
In France, the Day of the Kings is not celebrated so much. Nowadays the gifts are brought by Father Christmas. However, if there is an equivalent to the king’s cake: the Galette de Rois, which is a puff pastry that can be filled with many things, from almonds to fruit. It also has a little figure inside and it is lucky to find it.
The Witch Befana is the protagonist of the night of 5 January in Italy. The Three Kings on their way to Bethlehem got lost and a lady helped them get there but refused to accompany them. They say that she regretted it, went to look for them with candies, and when she did not find them, she distributed them among the children.
In this country it is she who distributes the gifts. Some people identify her as a secular figure, but the origin of her name, Befana, seems to come from Epiphany, which is a religious concept.
In Latin America it is common in several countries to cut grass and water for the camels. A doughnut similar to the Roscón de Reyes is also eaten: the Rosca de Pascua.
The children collect grass, a type of plant, and leave it in a box under their bed on the night of January 5th so that the camels can feed themselves when they come home to leave their presents.
In Cuba, the Black’s Easter or St. Balthasar’s Day is celebrated. In the time of the Spanish colonization, the black slaves went out to the streets to dance to the rhythm that marked their drums. Nowadays this day of “freedom” is commemorated with dances and songs in the streets.
The children leave the letter to their majesties in their shoes and wait for the magic moment when they open the gifts. In Mexico, people also eat roscón. The candy hides a little figure, and whoever finds it must invite tamales and atoles on Candlemas day (February 2nd).
In Argentina, as in Mexico, children leave the letter that bears all their wishes written on their shoes for the kings to fulfil. They eat the typical Rosca de Pascua on the 6th.
At Hostandboat we appreciate all these kinds of traditions, and we value the effort made by the Three Kings to leave happiness and illusion in adults and children on January 5 or 6. If you still don’t have your perfect gift, come to our website and discover the wonderful trips we offer, you will be crowned as the new king of Christmas because it is a gift that will last a lifetime!