The 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day, December 25th and end on the Twelfth Night, January 5th.
On January 6th, traditionally the last day of the Christmas season, is when we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day.
In Mexico, Spain and other Latin-American countries it is when children receive the majority of their gifts from the Three Kings rather than from Santa Claus at Christmas.
Before going to bed the children place their old shoes or a box filled with grass or hay under their bed for the camels with a wishlist on top for the Three Kings. In the morning the shoes or box is filled with toys & gifts from the Three Kings.
According to legend based on scripture (Matthew 2:1-12) this day commemorates the Three Wise Men, Melchior, Gaspar and Baltazar, who followed the star to Bethlehem, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They travel to Bethlehem, and along the way encountered King Herod, whom they tell of the birth of the new King. Herod orders them to find the baby and return to tell him where the Messiah could be found so that he may pay homage. After being warned by God in a dream that they should not return to Herod because he planned on killing the baby, they returned to their own countries another way.
The scripture does mention the three gifts but does not say how many came to visit. It was always assumed that if there were three gifts, then there were probably three people. Scholars estimate the number to be 2-12, possibly more. Are you wondering why they make such a big deal out of when the Kings came and not when the shepherds or others visited? It’s because the “Kings” (Wise Men or Magi) who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles (non-Jews) to acknowledge Jesus as “King” and in doing so, the first to reveal that Jesus came for all people, from all nations and races.
Rosca de Reyes – Three Kings Bread.
Rosca de Reyes or Three Kings Bread is a round sweet bread traditionally eaten on Día de los Reyes.
The holiday is sometimes referred to as the Twelfth Night because it falls twelve days after Christmas, but is also known as Epiphany and marks the day the Wise Men are believed to have visited the Christ Child.
The bread is shaped in the form of a wreath and usually has candied fruit on top, and a figurine of a baby baked inside. It’s often simply called “rosca.” This sweet bread is similar to King Cake which is eaten in New Orleans during Carnival season.
In Mexico it is customary for friends and family to get together on January 6 to eat rosca. Usually each person cuts their own slice and the one who gets a piece of rosca with the baby figurine is expected to host a party on Día de la Candelaria or Candlemas, which is celebrated on February 2nd. On that day, the traditional food is tamales. Nowadays bakers tend to put several baby figurines in the rosca, so the responsibility for making or buying the tamales can be shared among several people.