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The Three Wise Men tradition

Although the origin of the Three Wise Men is a real mystery, its tracks takes us back to the Bible, to the Gospel readings of Saint Matthew. There, it talks about the journey made by the Three Kings of Orient, guided by one star, to Bethlehem to visit and offer gifts to the newborn baby Jesus.  But even though the scriptures do not explain where they came from, they indicate that they came from Babylon or Persia, where they were a great influence.

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According to tradition in many countries, the Three Wise Men are the ones who visit childrens homes at dawn every January 6th and leave them gifts, the same way in which they took gold, incense, and myrrh to Baby Jesus.

In order for them to leave gifts, the Three Wise Men ask for children to be good all year.  To the children who have been bad, the Three Wise Men leave them coal.  But the Wise Mine aren’t bad people, they type of coal they give them is a sweet type of coal, made of sugar, which symbolizes the need for the child to behave.

Traditions around the world

In Germany, Spain and other countries in Latin America, children receive gifts from the Three Wise Men on the night of January 5th.

These festivity is also celebrated in Austria, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Lichtenstein, Slovakia, and parts of Switzerland. In some of these countries they organize the Procession of the Three Wise Men, in which people dressed like the Wise Men cavalcade the streets on horses or carriages.

In Spain, children place their shoes on the balcony, on which the Wise Men leave their gifts.  Next to their shoes the children leave snacks for the “monarchs” and hay for the camels.

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico it is accustomed for the children to pick grass from the garden of their homes and place it in a box next to their beds.  According to the tradition, the camels will eat the hay, and the Wise Men will leave a gift in return.

In Puerto Rico as much as in Cuba they hold a celebration in the streets since the Spanish colonization.  In those times, January 6th was given as a day off to the slaves and they would go out to the streets with their drums.  For that reason till this day it is known as the Easter of the Black.

In Mexico the Three Wise Men is special as well.  Children have the custom of writing letters to the Wise Men in which they tell them that they have been good during the year and let them know what gifts they want.  The letter is placed next to their shoes, whether it be under the Christmas Tree or next to the Nativity Scene.

It is also accustomed to have a parade with colorful carriages, music, clowns, disguises and the Three Wise Men, who hand out gifts or candy.

Like in Venezuela, one of the traditions in Mexico is to cut the “Rosca de Reyes” or Kings Bread in the shape of a ring covered in sugar and pieces of fruit.  Small plastic Baby Jesus figurines are placed inside the bread. Whoever gets a slice of bread with the figurine, has to invite friends over for “atole” or “tamales” on Candlemas Day, which is celebrated ever February 2nd, according to the Catholic tradition.

And just the next day of the Three Wise Men celebration in Russia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, due to the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church follows the old Julius Cesar Calendar for religious festivities.  There are diverse traditions that begin with a 40 day fasting and after January 7th they begin the “12 Holy Days” in which religious followers walk the streets celebrating Christmas.  During the “12 Holy Days”, they help out the sick, the poor and the needy.  Other countries that celebrate Christmas on January 7th are Ukraine, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kirghiz, Georgia, Byelorussia and Moldavia.  Many Orthodox Churches around the world celebrate Christmas on that day too, including some in the United States.

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