Epiphany goes by various names in different cultures. Little Christmas, Three Kings Day, or Twelfth Night all remain the official end of the season's "Twelve Days of Christmas" --counting from Christmas evening on December 25 to the Ephiphany on January 6.
In 2024, Epiphany or Three Kings Day falls on Saturday, January 6.
In biblical terms the word epiphany, meaning "revelation" best describes the story of how the Magi or Three Kings - Caspar, (or Kaspar or Gaspar) Melchior and Balthasar - saw a bright star on the night Christ was born. When they followed it to Bethlehem, they found the Christ child and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The legendary visit would later gave rise to the custom of gift giving at Christmas on the Feast of the Epiphany, today traditionally observed on January 6.
as well as other Spanish-speaking countries, the tradition has always been to observe Christmas Day as a solemn religious
occasion, reserving Three Kings Day or Día de los Reyes for partying and exchanging gifts. However, in many Hispanic cultures gifts can be given on Christmas Day, on Three Kings Day -- or as a double celebration on both days!
12 Days of Christmas & Other Traditions
Epiphany or "Twelfth Night" was the last opportunity to make merry before a return to the usual toil of the workaday world. The traditional Yule log was kept lit until Twelfth Night in order to bring blessings & good fortune throughout the upcoming year.
A favorite Christmas carol also still commemorates gifts of partridges,
french hens and golden rings in the olde English observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
children go from house to house on Epiphany eve, singing carols and chalking the year and initials KMB (those of the kings, Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar), near the entrance of each home. The festive Dreikonigskuchen or Three Kings Cake is also served that night to celebrate the occasion.
Several countries - most notably Italy and Russia - also share the long-held tradition of La Befana, (in Russia, Baboushka) who is a kindly old witch bearing gifts by climbing down the chimney on the night of January 5.
In Mexico, serving La Rosca de Reyes or Three Kings Cake, is still-popular family tradition on Three Kings Day, with good fortune bestowed on anyone who is lucky enough to find a figure of the baby Jesus baked inside.