When I was growing up, my mother always made a big deal about Epiphany. The Christmas tree did NOT come down until January 6th at the very earliest, and she kept wearing her Christmas jewelry, sweaters, and singing songs and making Christmas cookies until the Three Kings Day also. She called it “Little Christmas” just as they do in some European countries.
I loved it.
Now that I am a mother, I get great joy out of not only extending the Christmas season, but including several family rituals for Epiphany that make the day *special.*
The primary rituals we did growing up were: moving the kings closer and closer to the nativity on the mantel each day after Christmas; having them arrive on Epiphany; making and eating a Three Kings Cake; and in the evening conducting an Epiphany House Blessing.
I’m going to talk about each of those here, and some more rituals, crafts, and games I have started with my children.
What is Epiphany?
Epiphany, also called Three Kings Day, or El Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos, is celebrated on January 6th, and is when we remember the wise men’s arrival in Bethlehem. The three kings, or three wise men, or three magi, as they are interchangeably called, of course brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child. This is a time to acknowledge that baby Jesus was the Son of God, the Savior, Messiah, and one true King.
I love the imagery of three wise men (astrologers, perhaps), following a beautiful bright star across a dark desert. Instead of finding a king in a palace, they find a baby in a manger. It is a story of wonder, and of the glory of God.
So, basically, the perfect story to share with your small children :-).
It’s also the perfect holiday to celebrate if you personally seek enlightenment. What journey are you going on this year? Is Jesus your star?
Celebrating Three Kings Day with Children
Ahhhh children make the celebration of Epiphany an even more fun feast day! From activities, to foods, books, crafts, this is a day for a PARTY.
As a Catholic mom (confused Catholic, but still Catholic), I LOVE celebrating feast days with my children and keeping the liturgical year as much as possible. It builds in a natural rhythm, and combined with seasonal celebrations, ensure that our lives are filled with ritual, celebration, and faith.
I’m not a huge crafter- I usually pick one small and easy craft for each celebration day, and maybe a coloring sheet or two. That’s it. The internet is FILLED with craft ideas for Three Kings, so if you want to do TEN, then go right ahead.
Our primary ways of celebrating epiphany include: leading the three magi to the nativity scene (still up from Christmas), blessing our house with holy water & chalk above the front door (more on this later), praying together, reading scripture, and celebrating with a Kings Day Cake. More on each of these below!
But first, here is a list of a bunch of ideas on celebrating Epiphany with children!
20 Ways to Celebrate Epiphany with Small Children
- Move the three kings from your nativity set slowly across your house starting on Christmas and ending on January 6th.
- Do a house blessing together, sprinkling holy water in each room and on each doorway.
- Make paper crowns to wear and decorate them.
- Make beautiful star ornaments from popsicle sticks.
- Bake a King’s Cake together and share it. You can also make Epiphany bread, or Three Kings Cupcakes, or star cookies, etc. Whatever is special for you!
- Save one present for each person to give on Epiphany or “Little Christmas.”
- Play the story of the three kings visit- we have a couple nativity play sets, and we act it out with them (we have this one, and one like this)
- Dress up like the kings yourself and have a procession through the house while singing We Three Kings!
- Read the story of the three kings visiting Jesus, Mathew 2: 1-12.
- Go out and look at the stars and imagine what it would have been like following a star.
- Chose gifts to give as a family to a charitable organization (we love Save the Children and Heifer Foundation).
- Print out Three Kings coloring sheets and do them together.
- Through a Three Kings Day Party/ or a Twelfth Night Party!
- Make your food into star or crown shapes using cookie cutters.
- Enjoy books on the Magi together. Our two favorites are We Three Kings (its gorgeous!), and The Last Straw. This is also a good time to read the Twelve days of Christmas- Epiphany is the last day!
- Hide a “baby Jesus” (maybe a baby doll?) and dress up like Kings and search for him.
- I love this idea for sensory play involving a little bit of Frankincense and Myrrh essential oil, and some pretend gold.
- Hold a parade around your house, carrying the Three Wise Men and singing “We Three Kings.” We did this as part of our house blessing growing up, and we had Three Kings that were candle holders, so we were also carrying candles! So fun! Okay, maybe not with toddlers, haha.
- If you are going to give gifts on January 6th, leave out hay and carrots for the camels on the evening of January 5th.
- Bless your house with Chalk and say the prayer of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (see below for more).
Our Family Rituals for Epiphany
These family traditions are very special to me, and I love celebrating them with my children!
- The Magi move around the house from Christmas until Epiphany when they arrive at the Nativity. I love this ritual, which brings a little magic, drama, and activity to each of the twelve days of Christmas. On Christmas Day we imagine the magi have seen the star, and they start their twelve day procession towards the nativity (which is on our mantle). When we decorate in early December, we always are sure to place the Three Kings far away, so they have plenty of space to travel.
- Bake and Eat a Kings Cake. Growing up we made a simple vanilla cake with frosting, and we hid inside it these items: a baby, a crown, a heart, and a coin. Whoever got these in their slice was going to have that kind of luck in the new year- fertility, riches, love, etc. Whomever got the crown was the king for the party. As a mother of small children, both the idea of choking on small objects AND the idea of toxic plastics or heavy metals leaching into a cake stop me from adding these trinkets. Instead, I put these inside a bag, and while we eat the cake, each person gets to pick one from the bag.
- House Blessing with holy water. This is the most special of all of our family rituals, and the most involved. The family carries around the Three Wise Men from the nativity (growing up we had Three Kings Candle holders, here is one such set offered on Etsy) around the house while singing We Three Kings. We pour holy water in a chalice that is saved for special occasions, and using a sprig from the Christmas tree, we bless each room and doorway with the holy water. Growing up we sometimes did incense also (frankincense and myrhh, hello!), but my husband can’t stand the smell so we don’t do that part. After we’ve blessed the whole house we end at our front door where we do the Three Kings Blessing with chalk!
- House Blessing with Chalk. After arriving at our front door, we open it and step outside. We read the home blessing of the three magi, Caspar, Maelchior, and Balthasar (see below for the words). Then we write about the door 20 + C + M + B + 21. The 20 and 21 are for whichever year it is- this year is 2021. The letters C, M, and B, are for the three kings, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, but they are also for the Latin blessing May Christ Bless this House, “Christius Mansionem Benedicat.”