The Day of Kings (El Día de los Reyes Magos) on January 6, marks an exciting end to the Christmas season for children in Argentina.
Though the summer Christmas in Argentina is more about food and fiesta than gift giving, the kids make out with some good loot on the Day of Kings, which marks the day of the Christian Epiphany on the twelfth day of Christmas.
The event commemorates the visit of Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, who followed a star to Bethlehem from the east to bring gifts and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Epiphany Traditions in Argentina
Argentina’s Catholic tradition dictates that children write a letter to the Three Wise Men (aka Kings of the Orient) with their list of wishes and then leave their shoes under the Christmas Tree or by the door on the Night of Kings (Noche de Reyes, January 5).
They also put out some water and grass for the three kings’ camels before they go to bed.
On the magical morning, children who have been good all year discover that the camels ate their rations and the Three Wise Men left gifts. These days the gifts are not gold, frankincense and myrrh, but toys.
In more rural areas of Argentina, there is also a Three King’s Parade on the Day of Kings, in which the Wise Men march through, sometimes on horseback, in ancient-style robes accompanied by various servants, soldiers and other characters who give out toys and candy to the children.
In Argentina’s small towns and in the countryside, the festivities may be a more elaborate celebration with gauchos, or Argentine cowboys, dressed up as the biblical kings riding through town on horseback.
In Buenos Aires the Three Kings visit children’s hospital wards and sometimes make an appearance at Plaza Mariano Moreno in front of the Congress building, before parading down Avenida de Mayo to the Plaza de Mayo.
Argentine King Cake
The food most associated with the Day of Kings in Argentina is Rosca de Reyes, a ring-shaped ‘Epiphany cake’ that also makes an appearance on Easter as Rosca de Pasqua (Easter cake).
This moist, delicious cake can be found in the bakeries of Argentina around these holidays.
According to Catholic tradition, the shape of the cake represents the crowns of the three kings and the infinite love of God.
While in other Latin American countries (and some southern U.S. states) the cake may be topped with a plastic figurine of baby Jesus, the Argentine version of King Cake is often topped with custard, eggs, candied fruit and sugar.