For most, New Year’s Day is probably when your fun and festivities come to a sad end and it’s back to work… But not in Spain! Here, we love the festive season so much that the Christmas holidays ALWAYS last until January 6th, when we celebrate El día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day).
This is one of the most important celebrations and a best loved tradition in Spain, especially for children. Why? Because it’s all about fun and presents! Yet this time they come from the Three Kings, who are said to come into people’s homes through the windows during the night of January 5th, leaving gifts for everyone to open the next day.
So, who are the Three Kings?
Well, the story goes that on the day Jesus was born, the Three Kings followed a guiding star all the way to Bethlehem to bring him presents. It is thought that they arrived there on January 6th each bringing a present for baby Jesus: one king brought gold, one frankincense and the other myrrh (a spice). So, that’s why we get presents on this day!
Letters to the Three Kings
To get any presents, you have to write a letter addressed to the Three Kings or just to your favourite: Melchoir, Caspar or Balthazar. Mine is Melchoir!
Children start writing their letters in December, with a list of the presents they’d like to get on the morning of January 6th.
To make sure your letter reaches the Three Kings, you have to hand it to one of the royal messengers. You’ll find them in the centre of all towns and cities in Spain a few days before. They’ll ask you how you’ve behaved throughout the year. If you’ve been good, you’ll get all the presents you wished for in your letter, but if you’ve been naughty, all you’ll get is a lump of coal (edible candy coal of course!).
The Three Kings’ parade
The celebrations start the day before, on the evening of January 5th, with La Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (the Three Kings’ parade). People everywhere head to the streets to see the arrival of the Three Kings in carriages or on their camels, loaded with presents and accompanied by their helpers, who share sweets and goodies with everyone.
You’ll find different parades all over Spain, each one with its own style. It’s a real show of joy, light, colour and music! And the best thing: EVERYONE takes part! But, if it’s too cold for you to be outside, you can always watch the Three Kings riding through the streets on TV from the comfort of your own home!
What happens after the parade?
You might think that children stay up all night after the parade, but they actually go to bed early. Before they go to sleep, it is custom for children to put their shoes by the window ready for the Three Kings to fill with presents. Well, I say children… but we ALL have to do this if we want to get presents! It’s also common to leave some food and drink for the kings and their camels to enjoy after their long journey. Then, on the morning of January 6th we wake up to find presents in or next to our shoes.
What do people eat?
El día de los Reyes Magos is a bank holiday in Spain. Families gather together for a feast that ends with el roscón de reyes (the King’s cake) for dessert. The cake is decorated with red and green candied fruit, which symbolizes the rubies and emeralds the kings had on their cloaks. It’s baked with a tiny gift and a bean inside. If you get the slice that contains the gift, you’ll be crowned the king of the festivity, but if you get the slice containing the bean you’ll have to pay for the cake the following year!
So now you know how we celebrate the story of the Three Kings in Spain and if you ever spend Christmas here, you know why you might not get your presents until January 6th (as long as you remember to leave your shoes by the window)!
¡Feliz Día de los Reyes!