Three Kings Day or Twelfth Night Celebrations

Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, our annual Christmas celebrations culminated on December 25th.  In our family, we typically kept our tree up until around New Year’s Day. Then packed everything away. However, traditionally December 25th was the start of Christmas and not the end of Christmas.

When you think of the ’12 Days of Christmas’ song, December 25th was only the beginning of those twelve days.  While I was in high school and college, I began to work with a missions organization and take trips down to Piedras Negras, Mexico. During some of these trips, I happened to be in Mexico for ‘El Dia De Los Reyes’ or Three Kings Day.

It was such a fun celebration with yummy food. Add to that a college roommate whose family celebrated the holiday, and I was officially hooked. While it does not hold the importance of December 25th in our celebrations, it is a holiday that we enjoy.

Three Kings Day Cake baked by my daughter for our 4-H project.

Fast forward a few years, and my husband and I became involved in activities at a local historical site. They had an event called ‘Twelfth Night’ that sounded like fun, so we decided to check it out. I was surprised by the similarities between ‘Three Kings Day’ and ‘Twelfth Night.’

Depending on who is celebrating and what historical information you are looking at, it appears that ‘Twelfth Night’ could have been celebrated on January 5th or the 6th.  Three Kings Day is on January 6th. Both holidays are celebrated with a special cake. ‘Three Kings Day’ cake is called ‘Rosca de Reyes’ and is a ring-shaped cake with lots of dried fruit. It also contains a special baby doll representative of Baby Jesus hidden inside the cake. The person who finds the baby was to host the next party on February 2nd.  Twelfth Night Cake is a sweeter, more European-style cake but also involves things hidden within the cake. A bean and a pea are hidden in the ‘Twelfth Night” cake. The man and woman who finds those become King and Queen for the night.

While we know that the wise men or kings probably did not find Jesus until several years after he was born, this is the day that many churches celebrate them finding Baby Jesus. In honor of that, some cultures that celebrate ‘Three Kings Day’ have a tradition of having children put out shoes with hay for the camels and waking up to find treats in the shoes.

Our family typically enjoys Rosca De Reyes and talks about the Wise Men that found Jesus. We use this as a time to wrap up our holiday celebrations and enjoy a bit of Mexican culture. It is a great time to do a hymn study on ‘We Three Kings‘ or a simple Bible study about what we know about the men who came to worship Christ.

I have included some resources, information below, and a couple of recipes to get you started. Has your family ever celebrated either one of these holidays? Do you enjoy learning more about other cultures and their special days?

Kings Day Recipes

Martha Washington’s Twelfth Night Cake

Rosca de Reyes


Dia de Los Reyes

Three Kings Day

Twelfth Night

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7 thoughts on “Three Kings Day or Twelfth Night Celebrations

  1. I was just talking with a friend about their tradition of hosting a Twelfth Night party and how she bakes a Kings Cake. What a fun tradition that makes scripture even more meaningful. Thanks for sharing your tradition with us!


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