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The Tale of the Three Kings: How the Epiphany is Celebrated in the Philippines

The Tale of the Three Kings: How the Epiphany is Celebrated in the Philippines


Ah, the Epiphany. Now, before you think I’m talking about that sudden realization I had last week when I discovered that my favorite pair of tsinelas was under the bed (yes, the one I’ve been searching for days), let’s dive into something a tad more historical and, dare I say, heavenly.

Epiphany, known to many as “Three Kings’ Day,” is one of those special dates in the Christian calendar that doesn’t get as much limelight as Christmas or Easter. But trust me, it’s got all the drama, stars, and gifts to make it a blockbuster event! It’s that time of the year when we commemorate the Three Kings, or Magi, and their epic road trip (sans Waze or Google Maps) following a star. Their destination? To meet the infant Jesus and shower Him with gifts that would make any baby’s first Christmas look modest.

Now, if you’re imagining three old dudes on camels, bearing gifts, and possibly singing carols, you’re on the right track. But there’s so much more to this tale, especially when it comes to how we, Filipinos, celebrate it. So, kapit lang, and let’s embark on this journey together, shall we?

Historical Background: The Epiphany

Ah, to truly appreciate the Feast of the Epiphany, we need to take a little balik-tanaw (look back) to its origins. Picture this: a time long before our lolas and lolos even thought of making their first bibingka. The Feast of the Epiphany has its roots deep in the biblical narrative. It’s chronicled in the Gospel of Matthew, where three wise men from the East, guided by a shimmering star, embarked on a journey to pay homage to the newborn King, Jesus. These weren’t just any random travelers; they were Magi, scholars, or kings, each bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Quite the baby shower gifts, if you ask me!

Now, let’s hop over to our beautiful archipelago. The Philippines, with its rich tapestry of history, culture, and yes, fiestas, has a knack for embracing and adding its own sahog (ingredient) to global traditions. The celebration of the Three Kings is no exception. As early as the Spanish colonial period, Filipinos have been observing this day with much fervor and excitement. Our ancestors integrated the tale of the Three Kings with local customs, making it as Filipino as adobo or sinigang. From vibrant parades to special church masses, the Feast of the Epiphany became more than just a religious observance; it became a cultural spectacle, a testament to our unique blend of faith and festivity.

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The Tale of the Three Kings

Gather ’round, mga kaibigan, for a tale as old as time, but always worth the retelling. Long, long ago, in lands far to the East, three wise men, or Magi as they were often called, noticed an extraordinary star shining brighter than any they had ever seen. Intrigued and guided by prophecies, they decided to follow this celestial beacon. Their mission? To find the newborn king it heralded.

Traveling on camels across vast deserts and treacherous terrains (and without the convenience of a karinderya or sari-sari store in sight), they finally reached Bethlehem. There, in a humble stable, they found the infant Jesus with Mary. Overwhelmed with joy and reverence, they knelt and paid homage to the child, recognizing Him as the promised Messiah.

Now, these weren’t your typical bisita who’d come empty-handed. Oh no! They brought with them gifts that were as symbolic as they were valuable.

  • Gold: Often associated with royalty, gold was a fitting gift for Jesus, the “King of Kings.” In our local context, it’s like gifting a barong Tagalog to someone of high stature.
  • Frankincense: This aromatic resin, when burned, produces a fragrant smoke, often used in worship. It symbolized Jesus’ divine nature and His role as a priest, bridging the gap between God and man. Think of it as the ancient version of our incense during Simbang Gabi.
  • Myrrh: A bit more somber, myrrh is an embalming oil, foreshadowing Jesus’ suffering and death. It was a poignant reminder of the sacrifice He was to make for humanity.

These gifts weren’t just lavish presents; they were profound symbols, each telling a piece of the story of who Jesus was and the role He was to play in the world’s redemption. And just like that, in the quiet of a Bethlehem night, the Magi became part of a story that would be told for generations to come, even on our shores, reminding us of the true essence of Christmas and the Epiphany.

Traditional Celebrations in the Philippines

Ah, the Philippines! Where celebrations are as abundant as our islands, and the spirit of festivity runs as deep as our seas. When it comes to the Feast of the Epiphany, we sure know how to throw a party that would make the Three Kings wish they’d visited our shores too.

Parades and Processions

If there’s one thing we Filipinos excel at, it’s turning any event into a grand spectacle. In many towns and barangays across the country, the tale of the Three Kings comes alive in vibrant parades. Locals don colorful costumes, with some portraying the Magi on horseback, reenacting their epic journey. Children, dressed as angels, shepherds, and even stars, join the procession, adding to the festive atmosphere. The streets come alive with music, dance, and the palpable excitement of a community in celebration.


Remember the thrill of leaving your shoes by the window on the eve of the Epiphany? As dawn breaks, children eagerly check their shoes, hoping to find treats or small gifts, a local nod to the gifts the Magi brought for Jesus. It’s a tradition that captures the essence of giving and reminds kids (and let’s face it, some of us adults too) of the joy of simple surprises.

Read next: Unwrapped! Top Christmas Gift Ideas for 2023 You Can’t Afford to Miss!

Mass and Prayers

At the heart of the celebrations is the spiritual significance of the Epiphany. Special church services are held, where the story of the Magi’s visit is retold, and the faithful are reminded of the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God. The scent of incense fills the air, hymns resonate, and prayers ascend, as communities come together in worship and gratitude.

Feasts and Food

And of course, what’s a Filipino celebration without food? Tables groan under the weight of traditional dishes. There’s the creamy bibingka, the sticky kakanin, and the ever-favorite lechon. Families and friends gather for hearty meals, sharing stories and laughter. It’s a time of togetherness, of savoring both the food and the company.

In the Philippines, the Feast of the Epiphany is more than just a religious observance. It’s a tapestry of faith, culture, and tradition, woven together by the threads of community and celebration. And as the last remnants of the Christmas season, it’s a beautiful reminder of the warmth and joy that defines our Filipino spirit.

Modern-Day Observations

As the world spins faster and technology keeps us on our toes, even age-old traditions like the Feast of the Epiphany in the Philippines have seen a touch of modern flair. But fear not, purists! While the way we celebrate has evolved, the heart and soul of the tradition remain intact.

How the Celebration Has Evolved

In today’s digital age, the tales and teachings of the Epiphany are not just confined to church pulpits or family gatherings. Social media platforms are abuzz with posts, photos, and even virtual events commemorating the Three Kings. Schools, both physical and online, incorporate lessons about the Magi, ensuring that even in a virtual setting, the essence of the story is passed on to the younger generation.

Moreover, while parades and processions still hold their charm, they’ve become more inclusive. It’s not uncommon to see floats with modern interpretations of the Three Kings, perhaps wearing sunglasses or riding motorbikes instead of camels, reflecting contemporary Filipino humor and creativity.

Blend of Traditional and Modern Practices

The beauty of the Filipino spirit is its ability to harmonize the old with the new. While many still hold onto the tradition of leaving shoes out for gifts, modern parents might also use this opportunity to teach their kids about the value of giving by encouraging them to donate toys or clothes to those in need.

Church services, while still deeply rooted in tradition, have embraced technology. For those who can’t make it to the physical church, live-streamed masses and online prayer sessions ensure that the spiritual essence of the Epiphany is accessible to all.

And let’s talk about food! While the traditional dishes are still much loved (who can resist a good bibingka?), contemporary Filipino chefs and home cooks are experimenting, giving a modern twist to classic recipes or incorporating flavors from other cultures, reflecting the Philippines’ ever-evolving palate.

In essence, while the ways we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany might have seen some modern tweaks, the core remains unchanged. It’s a testament to the Filipino’s ability to adapt and evolve, all while holding onto the traditions and values that make us who we are. Whether it’s in the glow of a candle during a traditional mass or the blue light of a smartphone screen, the spirit of the Epiphany shines brightly in the Philippines.

Regional Variations

The Philippines, with its 7,641 islands, is a melting pot of cultures, dialects, and traditions. It’s no surprise then that the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany varies from one region to another, each adding its distinct flavor to the mix. Let’s take a pasyal (stroll) across the archipelago and see how different regions put their unique spin on this age-old tradition.


In the northern provinces, particularly in the Ilocos region, the “Kabalgan” or “Kaplag” is observed. Here, children go from house to house, singing hymns in honor of the Three Kings. In return, they receive coins or treats, similar to caroling during the Christmas season. Meanwhile, in Metro Manila, the grand “Parada ng mga Tres Reyes” in Makati City stands out. It’s a colorful parade featuring the journey of the Magi, complete with camels, horses, and a retinue of performers.


In the heart of the Philippines, the island of Panay has a unique way of celebrating. In some parts, there’s the “Hugas Paa” or “foot washing” tradition. Elders play the role of the Three Kings and wash the feet of chosen children, symbolizing humility and service. Cebu, known for its grand Sinulog festival, also has smaller processions dedicated to the Three Kings, blending native and Christian traditions.


Down south, the blend of Christian and indigenous traditions is even more pronounced. In some areas, the Magi are portrayed not on camels, but on horseback, reminiscent of the region’s warrior history. The “Pahalik sa Tres Reyes” in some parts of Mindanao is a touching tradition where devotees line up to kiss the images of the Three Kings, seeking blessings for the year ahead.


This beautiful island, often considered the last frontier of the Philippines, has its own take on the Epiphany. In Puerto Princesa, the “Irawan Festival” coincides with the Feast of the Epiphany. While it’s primarily a thanksgiving celebration for the year’s harvest, the influence of the Three Kings’ story is evident in the festivities.

These regional variations are a testament to the rich tapestry of Filipino culture. While the core story of the Magi remains constant, the way it’s celebrated reflects the diversity and creativity of the Filipino spirit. Whether it’s the solemn foot washing in the Visayas or the vibrant parades in Luzon, the Feast of the Epiphany in the Philippines is truly a celebration of faith, culture, and community.


As the sun sets on our journey through the Feast of the Epiphany in the Philippines, it’s clear that this celebration is more than just a date on the Christian calendar. It’s a tapestry woven with threads of faith, culture, and the indomitable Filipino spirit. From the northernmost tip of Luzon to the southern shores of Mindanao, the tale of the Three Kings resonates, echoing the universal themes of hope, sacrifice, and divine love.

The Epiphany, with its blend of solemn rituals, vibrant parades, and heartfelt traditions, captures the essence of the Filipino soul. It’s a reflection of our deep-rooted faith, our penchant for festivity, and our ability to find joy and meaning in the stories we’ve inherited from generations past. It’s a bridge that connects us to our ancestors, to our faith, and to each other.

For those who’ve grown up with the tales of the Magi, the traditions of the Epiphany are a comforting embrace, a reminder of home and childhood. For others, new to this celebration, it’s an invitation to delve deeper, to discover the richness of Filipino culture and spirituality.

So, whether you’re a devout believer or simply a curious soul, the Feast of the Epiphany in the Philippines offers a treasure trove of experiences. Participate in a parade, attend a mass, savor the traditional dishes, or simply listen to the tales. Engage, immerse, and let the story of the Three Kings inspire you. After all, in their journey of faith and discovery, we might just find reflections of our own journeys, our own quests for meaning and connection.

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! And may the spirit of the Epiphany light your path, today and always.

For a more immersive experience, consider visiting local museums, attending cultural workshops, or engaging with local communities during the Epiphany celebrations. The Philippines, with its rich history and vibrant traditions, offers endless opportunities for discovery and learning. Happy reading and exploring!

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