Story behind the song
There is so much mystery surrounding the story of the Three Kings. Who were they? Where did they come from? What relation did they have to each other? We only really know what (or Who) they were after.
Their only guides were ancient scripture and a bright star. They would not give up until they found the Savior of the world, no matter the cost.
Our arrangement of this traditional Christmas song “We Three Kings” is a tribute to them, their tenacity, and their Noble Purpose.
The three Kings (Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar) represented Europe, Arabia and Africa respectively.
Hundreds of years ago, roast lamb was traditionally served at Epiphany in honor of Christ and the three Kings’ visit.
Whoever finds the small statue of a baby Jesus hidden inside their slice of the Rosca de Reyes throws a party on Candlemas in February.
In some European countries, children leave their shoes out the night before to be filled with gifts, while others leave straw for the three Kings’ horses.
According to Greek Orthodox Church’s traditions, a priest will bless the waters by throwing a cross into it as worshipers try to retrieve it.
In Bulgaria too, Eastern Orthodox priests throw a cross in the sea and the men dive in – competing to get to it first.
In Venice a traditional regatta that started as a joke in the late 1970’s has been incorporated in the celebrations of Epiphany Day.
In Prague, there is a traditional Three Kings swim to commemorate Epiphany Day at the Vltava River.
In New York, El Museo del Barrio has celebrated and promoted the Three Kings’ Day tradition with an annual parade for more than three decades. Thousands take part in the procession featuring camels, colorful puppets and floats.
The day’s activities involve singing holiday carols called aguinaldos.
“IOTD” is image of the day, a concept I came up with. I teach visual meditative therapy – or in easy terms – a mini mental holiday. For some people it is very difficult for them to get their image right. I post an image a day for people to use in their mini mental vacay. Some are serious, some are silly, and some are just beautiful!”
For many Puerto Ricans, that’s merely a prelude to what they feel is really the important day of the marathon Christmas Season in Puerto Rico. I should point out that the Three Kings, or Los Reyes Magos, are not only venerated in Puerto Rico but throughout the Latin World.
The Kings, or Wise Men, certainly present a more spiritual and faithful representation of the birth of Christ than an once-obscure saint who came to be known as Santa Claus and who was squeezed into his signature red suit by the Coca-Cola Company.
Regardless of faith, most Americans know the story, or at least, know of the story, of the Three Kings. As my venerable colleague and About Christianity Guide, Mary Fairchild, explains, we don’t know a whole lot about the Magi (which doesn’t mean magic-trick magicians but rather a general term for astrologers, seers, and fortunetellers). In their sole appearance in the Gospel of Matthew, they are never named, and hail from “the east.” (The names we have come to know them by — Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar — were handed to them much later on.) The most well-known thing about them, of course, is that they came bearing gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
On the night Christ was born, the were drawn by a “mysterious light” which became a star that hung in the western sky. The followed this sign to Bethlehem, where they arrived (a little late) to honor Christ’s birth. In fact, the “12 Days of Christmas,” which is so often believed to end on December 25, actually begins on the 25th and runs through January 6, culminating with the Feast of Epiphany, or “The Adoration of the Magi.”
~The Puerto Rican Tradition~
Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, is one of the most important holidays on the Puerto Rican calendar. Traditionally, the island, and most of the Latin world, marked the eve of January 6 as the day to exchange presents rather than December 25.
Kids would also gather grass, hay or straw in shoe-boxes for the Magi’s horses or camels — a charming alternative to cookies and milk for Santa. (Traditionally, you’ll find carvings and artwork of the three kings on horses instead of camels; that’s because the country folk in years past didn’t know what a camel was.)
Good kids were rewarded with presents and candy, while bad kids ended up with charcoal or even dirt (which begs the question: How bad do you have to be to get dirt for Christmas?)
Today, children typically get their main presents on the 25th, but there’s always a smaller, humbler, and perhaps even more rewarding gift reserved for Three Kings Day.
~Here are some other facts about Three Kings’ Day~
The kings’ names were Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar.
They gave Jesus gold, the essential oil frankincense and the resin myrrh.
The kings brought their gifts in vessels called ciboria.
Some children leave hay in their shoes for the kings’ camels to eat. Others leave letters to the kings.
Hispanic communities often serve rosca de reyes on the holiday. It’s a circular fruitcake inside which a small statue of a baby Jesus is hidden. Whoever finds it in their slice either throws a party on Candlemas Feb. 2.
Three Kings’ Day activities often include the singing of aguinaldos or Christmas carols.
The Three Kings are also a mainstay of Puerto Rican arts and crafts. They are among the most popular subjects for the island’s santos, or handmade figurines of saints and other religious persons, and practically every souvenir shop worth its salt will carry some homage to them.