Los Tres Reyes Magos
Today is Epiphany, the day the Three Kings reach the manger, or pesebre, to present their gifts to Jesus.
I’m not sure to what extent Epiphany is celebrated in the United States* beyond special readings for Catholic masses near the date, but it’s always had significance for my family in that it marks the end of the Christmas holiday. Backing up a bit, I’ll explain how we begin Christmas. It’s a tradition of my family’s to celebrate the coming of Christmas each year by saying a series of prayers, a Novena, in Spanish over the nine days that precede the holiday. Part of this tradition is to gather together each evening around the pesebre (at my parents’ it is literally a miniature town meant to represent all of Bethlehem constructed on a hill of Spanish moss and elaborately decorated), pray and sing traditional villancicos accompanied by a band of toy percussion instruments. Tom and I have carried on this practice because we enjoy the songs, have fun making “music,” and love the old-Spanish poetry of the prayers themselves. I found our pesebre at Steeple People, our neighborhood thrift store, a couple of years ago, and this year for Christmas I gave my older sister Marcela a pesebre of her own that I came across at a local estate sale.
Given all of that, decorations—including the pesebre—must be up by December 16 in time for the beginning of La Novena. And, Christmas decorations aren’t taken down until after Epiphany. Growing up, I was always horrified by cast-off trees already at the side of the road for garbage collection on December 26, just one day after Christmas. As as adult though, I have found it challenging to keep the tree through January 6, what with it dropping needles everywhere and becoming something of a fire hazard. Fortunately this year that hasn’t been a problem!
Before the decorations come down, though, the Three Kings, who’ve been traveling across the living room to reach the manger since mid-December, arrive to greet the Holy Family.
Happy Epiphany and feliz día de los reyes magos to all!
*Internationally, Epiphany is often the day families exchange gifts, rather than on Christmas itself.