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What is ‘Three Kings Day?’ And how do people celebrate it?

This special Christmastime holiday takes on many names and traditions depending on where you are in the world.

People parade through the streets as part of celebrations of Three Kings Day in Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. Epiphany, the 12th night of Christmas, marks the day the three wise men visited Christ. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
People parade through the streets as part of celebrations of Three Kings Day in Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. Epiphany, the 12th night of Christmas, marks the day the three wise men visited Christ.
Mindaugas Kulbis, Associated Press

Every year on Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate Three Kings Day.

The special Christmastime holiday takes on various names and traditions depending on where you are in the world, the Smithsonian Libraries report. Some cultures refer to the holiday as “El día de los Reyes Magos” while others call it “The Twelfth Night” or “The Feast of the Epiphany.”

Whichever name you prefer, the holiday commemorates the biblical journey taken by the three kings (or ‘wise men’ or ‘magi’) to meet and worship the infant Jesus in Bethlehem.

As the story goes, the three men brought the child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. An article in the Huffington Post notes that the gold represents Jesus’s royalty and his title as “King of the Jews,” the frankincense symbolizes his holy position as God’s son, and the myrrh (which was used as a preservative) denotes his mortal body that would die for the sins of the world.

According to Newsweek, In non-pandemic times, the holiday is celebrated with feasts and parades around the world. Children in Belgium dress up as the wise men and carol door to door. In Mexico, families prepare Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake to mark the occasion. In some parts of the world, children leave their shoes outside their bedroom doors at night to find them filled with presents and treats the following morning.

An entry in Dennison’s Christmas Book from 1921 details a Twelfth Night party that involves baking a cake with a bean inside it to select the night’s king and queen, the Smithsonian Libraries report.

In recent years, even Disneyland has taken part in the Three Kings Day festivities.

Newsweek reports that people traditionally take down their Christmas tree and decorations on the Day of the Epiphany or the day prior, marking the end of the 12 Days of Christmas. According to the site, it supposedly brings bad luck to leave them up any longer.