The Unseen Importance of El Día de los Tres Reyes

A Tres Reyes decoration in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico;
Photo: Miguel Tsang

A Tres Reyes decoration in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico; Photo: Miguel Tsang

When someone brings up the day of  “January 6th,” chances are some very specific images come to mind. You probably remember where you were or what you were doing when you tuned in to the footage of masses rallying on Constitution Avenue. For a lot of people though, January 6 means something far more, and far different than the day a shirtless man wearing Viking headgear managed to break into the Capitol. 

Three Kings’ Day, or El Día de los Tres Reyes, is a holiday celebrated in many Hispanic countries on that same infamous day. The holiday celebrates the biblical story of the 3 kings, or wise men, visiting and bringing gifts to baby Jesus. Similar to Christmas, the holiday has roots in religious tradition, but it’s become more secular as time went on, eventually seen as just a time to be festive. In fact, many families who celebrate opt to give gifts on January 6 instead of Christmas.

“In Puerto Rico, which is where I’m from, when I was growing up, my mom always made it way more important than Santa Claus or Christmas Day,” Spanish teacher Ms. Yamalie Rodriguez said. “The tradition in Puerto Rico is that the kids will go out with a shoebox and they will put grass for the camels that are coming… we would put it in our rooms underneath the beds because the gifts aren’t under the tree but under the beds.”

As someone who celebrates, I’m grateful that I will always remember the day of January 6th as a day of celebration and family before anything else. However, the holiday is mostly obscure in the US, and the past few years have definitely not been kind to it.  Ever since the insurrection 2 years ago, most of the news coverage usually refers to the event as “January 6th.” The problem with associating the day of the 6th with the insurrection is that it sweeps this holiday that’s already unknown to most in the US further under the rug. While Three Kings’ Day is on FCPS’ list of Religious and Cultural Observance Days, it is not a day off unlike other similar holidays. This has forced many who celebrate to take the 6th off. Ms. Rodriguez also noted that she will take the day off to spend it with family. 

It’s frustrating that a day so rooted in celebration for so many is now known to most here in the US as a day of unrest. It almost leads me to wonder why the rioters couldn’t have picked the 5th or the 7th. Regardless, there’s definitely room to remember both the Capitol Insurrection and Three Kings’ Day when it comes to January 6th, but only one of those involves eating La Rosca de Reyes (the Three Kings’ cake).