Among the most important celebrations in the Dominican Republic are the Three Kings Day traditions. It is technically the last day of the Christmas season for Latin American countries (following 12 days after Christmas), and it is also commonly referred to as Día de Los Reyes Magos or Día de la Epifanía.
Besides Christmas and New Year's Day, this occasion is one of the crucial points of the holiday season, and the locals make sure it doesn't go unnoticed. While other countries such as the United States pay little attention to this day, for Dominicans it has a special meaning.
You will see soon enough
why it is a festivity deeply ingrained in the hearts of all Dominicans
and why they love it so much. But what is this holiday? What does it
entail? Which traditions are part of it?
The Epiphany (a holiday in the
Dominican Republic) commemorates two events. The first one is the
arrival of the three wise men to Bethlehem to worship the Son of God,
and the second one is the baptism of Jesus carried out by John the
According to Christian tradition (Matthew 2:1-12 from the New
Testament), the Three Wise Men came from the east and followed the
light of a star for twelve days all the way to the place where Joseph,
Mary, and Jesus were staying.
The well-known names of the three kings were Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar. Although there is a debate whether they were real kings, they were wise as they had knowledge of the divine nature of Jesus Christ. They brought several gifts and presented them to the recently born King of kings. The gifts for baby Jesus were gold, frankincense, and myrrh; they were a lot more than an expression of love and admiration. Each one of them carried a special meaning.
Gold represents Jesus's status as king, frankincense (often burned and used in ceremonies for special prayers) denotes his divine origin as heavenly king and not a mere terrestrial king, and myrrh (utilized in burials) shows his mortality and fate to die bearing the sins of humanity.
A celebration is not complete without a parade, and the Epiphany
is no exception. The evening of January, 5th is the designated time for
one of the most anticipated events of the season, which is the three
kings parade. Children of all ages line up on the sidewalks and even
climb over each other to get a glimpse of the wise men passing by and
ask at the top of their lungs other trinkets they forgot to include on
their wish list.
Certainly, the parade is not only for the young ones.
The Magi ride the camels (well, most of the time they are
horses) and greet the enthusiastic crowd. While riding, they throw
mouth-watering candy and other goodies down to the children, adults and
even the elderly. People dance as the wise men stroll around the
different parts of the town at the tune of the native Christmas rhythms.
There is no denying that receiving gifts during the holidays
is a great plus, especially for children. Now in the United States,
Santa Claus is expected to come down the chimney and place all the
presents under a tree on the night of Christmas Eve. For several
Spanish-speaking countries including the Dominican Republic, the time
for gifts is in the later hours of January 5th (the day before the
Three Kings Day) and not on December 24th.
Instead of a charming man wearing red, you can find three Magi from a distant land setting all their goods around a Christmas tree or a small nativity scene (with Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus). Unlike Santa, the Kings aren't that lucky to get tasty treats like cookies or milk set over the table just waiting for them.
Here is a video showing how the Three Kings day traditions are celebrated in the Dominican Republic:
Several days preceding the holiday, kids from all over the
country make a list of the things they want and give it to their
parents with the hopes of it being delivered to the Magi. Of course, by that time, the
parents already know what the children want and are prepared to set the
Traditionally, a day before the children fill a box with grass for the camels (not very appetizing) and leave water for the kings outside their rooms or in the kitchen (if the wise men get candy, they are fortunate). After that, for the delight of the kids, the Magi happily exchange the gifts for grass, although not the best deal for the Kings. They leave a trail from the box to the location of the presents (typically under the Christmas tree or close to the Nativity scene called El Nacimiento often prepared in most households).
That way the Children know the kings paid them a visit. In
some areas, they might even place shoes outside their door as a hint
for the wise men to lay the goodies there.
As soon as the children wake up, the first thing they do is look at the trail and follow at high speed until they find the desired goods. They open them up, and soon enough the sound of laughter and joy breaks the silence of the early morning hours. Around one hour later, the whole neighborhood is awake, and children can be seen in the street playing with their newly acquired toys.
In recent years more children are receiving presents on Christmas as well due to the influence of United States culture. I'm sure no child will complain about this (tough luck for the parents).
Another tradition found in the Dominican Republic is The Old Lady of Bethlehem (another name for the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus) who also bring presents to the children. Furthermore, local business owners take the afternoon to fraternize with the rest of the community and hand over gifts while spreading a little joy to those that are less fortunate.
The Three Kings Day holiday is the culmination of a wonderful time that is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Everybody rejoices on this day, but as you can see, the children love it the most. There are many reasons to join the fun and even incorporate these traditions in your household. Just go for it.
If you find yourself in the DR during this festivity, mingle with the locals, partake in exquisite local cuisine, and celebrate with your friends and family in this exotic location. One thing is for sure; Dominicans know how to make the most out of the Christmas season.