Penpalling & Letters

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

"Día de Reyes" or "Three Kings Day"

Under the Travelling around the World sharing Cultural Heritage, Folklore and Background Section we have the pleasure to visit the American continent once more together with Erika. Erika comes from a country situated in the south of North America, the land of the Maya and the Aztec, which has a long tradition in the arts, cuisine and culture (first country in America in number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites with thirty-one), a country with a rich history and biodiversity, and which is also known because of "mariachis". Yes, we are in Mexico! And Erika will guide us through an important celebration which is taking place all over the country on the 6th of January!

¡Hola Erika! It is a pleasure that you are visiting us today, here, in Penpalling & Letters! Could you tell us how is the place where you live in Mexico?

Hi from Mexico! I'm from Mexico City, which is the capital of the country. It is a very crowded city (twenty million inhabitants approximately), located almost in the middle of the Mexican territory. It's considered one of the biggest cities in the world. It is all surrounded by mountains. It was founded in 1521 over the ruins of the former city of "Tenochtitlan", after the Spanish conquest in the same year. Some important landmarks are: "Floating Gardens of Xochimilco", "Ruins of an Aztec Temple: Templo Mayor", the "Metropolitan Cathedral" (the largest and oldest one in the Americas), "The Palace of Fine Arts", the "Main Square: Zócalo" and the "National Palace".

Erika, would you like to share with us your experiences about penpalling?

I started penpalling about eight years ago. My first penpal was a girl from Spain who I met through a website named "Ringo". She wrote the first letter to me and this is how I started to write letters! Besides letters, I also started to collect postcards because my penpals were sending some to me with each letter. I really enjoy everything related to letters but I really love stickers!

Are you looking for penpals at the moment?

Well, right now I have about twenty penpals all over the world, but I would love to have a penpal from Poland who could help me with Polish language. If someone is interested in getting in touch with me, just contact me at: dynia[dot]pals[at]gmail[dot]com. I like to write letters with chatty people around my age (I'm 25), girls (because some guys don't like to write long letters) who are sincere and friendly.

And now Erika is telling us what is happening on the 6th of January in Mexico:

I think winter holidays are the most popular among people, and usually after Christmas it seems that the holidays season is over. But in some countries, just like in Mexico, we have other celebrations - we have the "Día de Reyes" or in English "The Three Kings Day". This celebration started in Spain and from there it got extended to Latin America during the Spanish colonization.

The origin of this tradition comes from the Bible. According to the New Testament, The Magi or Three Kings (they can be also known as the Three Wise Men): Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar were a group of kings who came from the East, following the star of Bethlehem to bring gifts to Jesus after his birth.

Día de Reyes is celebrated every year in countries like Mexico, Spain and all Latin America on January, 6th and this is the day when children receive some toys, gifts, sweets and treats coming from the Three Kings.

Everything starts on January, 5th when children in Mexico write a letter to the Three Kings asking for some toys or some goodies, and they attach the small letter with a string to a nice and colourful balloon filled up with helium. By the afternoon, children let the balloons fly up to the sky, so the Kings will catch them and know what presents the kids want to get the next day. If they have been good during the year, they will find their presents on the morning of January, 6th under the Christmas tree.

If kids couldn’t fly a balloon, it’s also common that they put their shoes by the window before they go to sleep. On the following morning they will find their presents inside their shoes or if the presents are bigger than the shoes, they will be placed next to them.

On January, 6th we eat "Rosca de Reyes" -"Three Kings Bread" in English- which is a ring shaped bread, made out of egg bread, decorated with dry fruits and sprinkled with sugar on top, and inside there are two or three small plastic dolls that represent baby Jesus. We serve some hot chocolate and a slice of this bread around 18:00pm in our "Merienda" which is something similar to "Tea time". The fun starts here, since everyone has to cut by himself/herself a slice of this ring. The ones who find a doll inside the slice of bread will be the Godparents of baby Jesus for "Día de la Candelaria" (Day of the Purification) on February, 2nd and they will have to make some "tamales" for everybody, as well (Tamales are corn bread filled with chicken or pork in a sauce or they can be sweet, with raisins or pineapple pieces, wrapped in corn husks).

So, as you can see, here, in Mexico, the holiday season is a bit longer, that is why it is common to see the Christmas tree still up in the living or dining room by mid January or even the first week of February. I truly believe that no matter what country we come from, we should keep our traditions and don’t let them to be forgotten through the years. They are part of who we are and what makes the world even richer when it comes to culture and traditions."

Thanks a lot, Erika, for participating in Penpalling & Letters and tell us how Mexico lives this wonderful and magical day! Wish everyone who will celebrate "Día de Reyes" an unforgettable day, especially to children!

Taking advantage of Erika's great article, I would like to add a few lines to tell how "Día de Reyes" is celebrated in Spain as well.

As Erika tells, the core of this festivity in all the countries in which this special day takes place is to celebrate the arrival of the Magi, the Three Wise Men or the Three Kings to Bethlehem in order to adore the Jesus Child and offer him their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. However, customs, traditions and celebrations vary from one place to another. Surely people from other countries where the "Three Kings Day" is celebrated could tell, but let me explain how this journey is lived in Spain.

Right after the New Year's all children get really excited. Why? Because they know that the Three Wise Men will be visiting them very soon and they will receive the presents they have dreamt of the last months! Before the arrival of the Three Magi, the children have to write them a letter so the Magi know what to gift to each child. They are getting old year after year but they know very well which presents correspond to every child! In the evening of January, 5th the Cavalcade of Magi takes place in every Spanish city. The Magi ride through the streets and together with their pages throw sweets and candy to all the children who are attending.

In the Cavalcade the most wonderful coaches and creatures can be seen. The Magi are accompanied always by their three camels, which also can be seen in the parade. When the parade finishes, the Magi speak to all the children and their parents. Those children who behaved well during the last year will get presents, while those who behaved badly are in risk to received coal (candy!) so they learn the lesson for the next year!
When the night comes, children have to go to bed very early, otherwise, the Magi won't visit them! The night from the 5th to the 6th of January each year is magical. The children don't sleep a wink in the whole night because they are very excited and adults feel the special atmosphere because of the children's thrill!
In some homes there are some traditions previously to the visit of the Three Kings. Children leave their cleaned shoes in a visible place (usually next to the Christmas tree or next to the windows) so the Magi can leave them the gifts. Some food is prepared for the Magi, camels and pages, too. The night is long and surely they need to get their strength back with so many visits in one night! The Three Kings only leave the gifts when they know the children are sleeping.
On January, 6th, very early in the morning, children get up and run to the Christmas tree. They are very excited to see which presents the Magi gifted them! It is a special morning full of joy, laugh and happiness. They finally can play and enjoy the so awaited presents! Usually, the Magi also leave a little gift in the houses of other relatives: grandparents, uncles and aunts... The children have to hurry up and enjoy their presents as the school will start soon!

In Spain it is also eaten the "Roscón de Reyes" or the "Three Kings Bread" or "Kings Cake", mainly for breakfast in the morning of January, 6th. It is baked and prepared in the same way as it is in Mexico. Inside the pastry there are two small trinkets: a bean and a little figure. The person who finds the figure it is said to have good luck throughout the year, while the one who finds the bean will have to pay for the "roscón". The tradition says the following (it is written as a rhyme in Spanish):

"He aquí el roscón de Reyes, tradición de un gran banquete
en el cual hay dos sorpresas para los que tengan suerte.
En él hay, muy bien ocultas, un haba y una figura;
el que lo vaya a cortar hágalo sin travesura.
Quien en la boca se encuentre una cosa un tanto dura,
a lo peor es el haba o a lo mejor la figura.
Si es el haba lo encontrado este postre pagarás,
mas si ello es la figura, coronado y rey serás".

Translated to English:

"Here it is the Three Kings Bread, tradition of a great feast
in which there are two surprises for those who are lucky.
There are, very well hidden, a bean and a figure;
the one who is going to cut it do it without mischief.
The one who finds in his/her mouth something a little bit hard,
in the worst case it is the bean, in the best one the figure.
If you have found the bean you will have to pay this cake,
but if you have found the figure, you will be crowned and king."

Just as Erika described above for Mexico, the holiday season is also longer in Spain. Spaniards don't feel that the Christmas period is over until January, 7th when getting up in the morning. This is when we realize that the holidays are gone and the daily routine is here again. In the last hours of January, 6th it is time to say goodbye to Christmas, remove the Christmas tree, the nativity scene and all the decorations and wait all the year long until the next one comes!

If you would like to read more interesting stories don't forget to check the links you can find at the following post: Travelling around the World sharing Cultural Heritage, Folklore and Background and at Sandbook.Net Penpal and Swappers Site and the Sandbook Magazine.

Let's meet again soon! And ¡"Feliz Día de Reyes"!

If you are interested in reading more articles related to the Christmas time and New Year's, check the following:

- Sinterklaas
- The Saint Nicholas tradition
- The Christmas Season in Spain
- New Year's Celebrations
- The Three Kings Day or "Día de Reyes"


  1. Thanks a lot for posting the article I have written! :D I love the videos of "La Cabalgata de Reyes" and also the rhyme is funny!! hehe I have enjoyed a lot reading about the celebration in Spain :D ¡MUCHAS GRACIAS! Hugs from Mexico! -Erika

  2. Wow, this looks like a huge celebration! Today is the Day of Three Kings in Germany too, but it looks like people don't pay much attention... only some children dressed as the three kings go to all the others' houses and write blessings on your door if you let them sing a song, make your habitat smell like frankincense and give them some money... at the end of the day the chancelor will meet some of those children to get the money ~ hopefully for a charity... ^^