Although the origin of the Three Wise Men is a mystery, it dates back to the Bible, the Gospel readings of Saint Matthew. There, it talks about the journey made by the Three Kings of the Orient, guided by one star, to Bethlehem to offer gifts to the newborn baby Jesus. Although the scriptures do not explain specifically where they came from, they indicate that the men came from Babylon or Persia, where they were highly respected and influential.
According to tradition in many countries, the Three Wise Men visit children’s homes at dawn every January 6th and leave them gifts, the same way in which they gifted gold, incense, and myrrh to Baby Jesus. In order for them to leave gifts, the Three Wise Men expect children to be well-behaved all year. Otherwise, the children receive coal. But the Wise Mine aren’t bad people, they leave kids coal made of sugar, which symbolizes the need for the child to behave.
Traditions around the world
In Germany, Spain, and many countries in Latin America, children receive gifts from the Three Wise Men on the night of January 5th. This 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 dress like the Wise Men and 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 customary for children to pick grass and place it in a box next to their beds. According to the tradition, the camels will eat the grass, and the Wise Men will leave a gift in return. During colonial times in Puerto Rico and Cuba, slaves had the day off on January 6th. They would take to the streets with their drums in celebration of the day known as the Easter of the Black.
In Mexico, children write letters to the Wise Men and 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 and left under the Christmas tree or next to the nativity scene. They also have a parade with colorful carriages, music, clowns, disguises, and the Three Wise Men, who hand out gifts or candy.
Venezuela and Mexico share the tradition of the “Rosca de Reyes” or King’s Bread, a pastry baked in the shape of a ring covered in sugar and filled with pieces of fruit. Small plastic baby Jesus figurines are baked into the bread. Whoever gets a slice of bread with the figurine must invite friends over for “atole” or “tamales” on Candlemas Day celebrated February 2nd, according to Catholic tradition.
In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th since the Russian Orthodox Church follows the old Julius Caesar 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.