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Celebrating Three Kings Day in Spokane

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Celebrating Three Kings Day in Spokane

This news story was made possible by contributions to FāVS from readers like you. Thank you.

News Story by Annemarie Frohnhoefer

Twelve days after Christmas, Roman Catholics commemorate Epiphany, when the Christ child was revealed to three men from the East who made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem after seeing a star in the sky. Depending on the source, these men were either astrologers, kings or holy men called Magi who delivered gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to the newborn baby in the manger.

Long before Northern Europeans established the Clausian gift-giving tradition, early Christians in the Mediterranean region celebrated the Epiphany by exchanging gifts in the tradition of the three kings mentioned in the bible. Though they are not mentioned by name in Scripture, the three kings Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar are essential to Three Kings Day. The colonization of the Americas brought the tradition from Spain to the Americas. Now it is also celebrated in Spokane.

Cultural Heritage and Religious Significance

The word epiphany comes from ancient Greek and means a revelation, especially the revealing of a physical god to a mortal. For Christians, Christ is believed to be the physical manifestation of God. In this sense, the birth of Christ is God’s way of revealing himself to the world.  

The arrival of the Magi signified that even gentiles came to adore the Christ child and viewed his birth and revelation as a major event. However, the gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold foreshadow Christ’s death. Amid the festivities and joy of the day, the religious significance is not forgotten. 

Kuttner

The Rev. David Kuttner, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Cheney, notes that Epiphany is a significant religious observance that is celebrated across the church. Kuttner explains that some congregations might choose to incorporate certain types of music, the use of incense or other appropriate forms of worship within the service. After the service, communities can add additional celebrations that reflect cultural traditions.

For the close-knit congregation of St. Joseph’s in West Central Spokane, Three Kings Day, also known as Fiesta de los Santos Reyes Magos, is celebrated with the inclusion of a mariachi choir during the Mass and treats for children provided by community members and several businesses within the Hispanic Professional Business Association of Spokane (HPBA) after the religious celebration. 

HPBA supports many cultural events throughout the year, including Dia de los Muertos. In larger cities, organizations like HPBA might sponsor parades and other activities on Three Kings Day, but in Spokane the day is often celebrated by families and congregations in a more intimate way.

After big Christmas celebrations, Three Kings Day provides families with a greater connection with one another and the opportunity to experience and share cultural heritage. Commercially popularized Christmas season activities are replaced by an emphasis on spiritual revelation and gifts of adoration that go back for generations. The result is a feast day that has not lost its religious significance.

Every feast day requires a feast and Three Kings Day is no exception. De Leon Foods’ bakery department makes traditional Rosca de Reyes, or “wreath of kings.” So does La Michoacana Restaurant in Spokane Valley where bakers were making hot roscas on the eve of Three Kings. The crown-shaped cake is decorated with dried and candied fruit to represent crown jewels. This is the Mexican version of what many in the United States call king cake. A figurine of Jesus is hidden within the cake and whoever finds it has to cook the next celebratory meal, typically tamales on Candlemas Day in early February, according to Spokane Diocese priest Father Gustavo Ruiz.

Rosca traditional bread/Wikimedia

The hidden Jesus in Rosca de Reyes represents the secrecy of Christ’s location soon after his birth. According to the Gospel of Matthew, King Herod asked the Magi to provide him with the Christ child’s location. When the Magi failed to do that, Herod ordered the death of any male child under the age of two, such was his attempt to ensure that the Jewish people would not receive a leader who would rival the Roman Empire’s leadership.

Christ was taken to Egypt by his parents as the family fled from King Herod. The Magi’s gifts provided the means by which the young family was able to flee. Placed within a biblical context, the gifts of the Magi were not merely token luxuries but were essential in protecting the Christ child. 

Kuttner explains that the Epiphany is a solemnity, one of the holiest days in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. It is a feast day that all Roman Catholics regard as a universal holy day.

“Epiphany’s religious significance is the same across the board, but the cultural significance varies,” he says.

Though the feast day falls on Jan. 6, Epiphany will be celebrated at all of the churches within the Spokane Diocese on Sunday, Jan. 8th, including at St. Joseph’s usual 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass.

This news story was made possible by contributions to FāVS from readers like you. Thank you.

Annemarie Frohnhoefer
Annemarie Frohnhoefer
Annemarie Frohnhoefer is a writer, editor and ghostwriter based in Spokane. Their work has appeared in High Desert Journal, The Inlander, The Spokesman-Review and other publications across the U.S. They are a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and a baptized Roman Catholic.

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