The evening of the 5th of January marks the arrival of the Three Kings or Wise Men ( los reyes magos) whose Dia de los Reyes is celebrated on the 6th January.
We take a look at the highlight of the traditional Spanish Christmas.
The 6th January is celebrated by Christians as the Epyphany feast day, commemorating the visit of the biblical Magi to the newly born Christ Child.
The account of the Magi comes from the Gospel of Matthew ( who incidently is the only one of the Apostles to mention the visit ). In it, he describes them as distinguished foreigners who had travelled “from the east” to worship the “king of the Jews”. Although the Magi are commonly referred to as “kings”, there is nothing in his account that implies that they in fact were.
According to the Christian tradition, Jesus´s birth is commemorated on the 25th December and the arrival of the Magi on the 6th January, marking the twelve days of Christmas.
The Magi were Melchior, Caspar,and Balthazar, who came with gifts of gold, frankincense,and myrrh.
In Spain the Magi have long been at the heart of the Christmas tradition. Indeed until the very recent arrival of celebrating Santa Claus, the 6th January has been the highlight of the Christmas festivities, with songs and carols ( villancicos) and when families gather to celebrate and give gifts to each other.
January 5: Cabalgata ( Three Kings Parade )
Festivities officially start the evening before with parades across Spain to celebrate the arrival of the three kings. In every town and village local families line the streets to get a glimpse of the Cabalgata de los reyes magos which include floats of performers as well as a float each for the three kings unless they are riding camels. From there they throw goodies, usually sweets, down to the children eagerly following the gift laden cortege.
Later Los reyes magos bring gifts during the night to those well behaved children who had already written their letters.
For the less well behaved – only a solitary lump of carbon (coal) awaits.
Much like the traditional milk and biscuits left for Santa Claus and his reindeer, so in Spain, children clean their shoes and place them in a good spot for the kings to see them and beside leave water, turrón (a typical Christmas nougat), and milk so that the three kings and their camels can have some refreshments during their long night.
January 6: Three Kings Day ( El Dia De Los Reyes)
In the morning children get up and run to where they had left their shoes to see what gifts they have received from the three kings. Hopefully they discover that there is no water or milk left and the nougat has been eaten, a sign that the three kings had recovered their strength and gone home.
Roscón de Reyes: Three Kings Day Cake
The crown jewel of the day is the Roscón De Reyes, a dry sweet bread-like cake often filled with whipped cream and topped with dried fruits and of course a crown atop.
The Roscón is either eaten as a form of “merienda” (high tea) after the Three Kings parade on the evening of the 5th January or for breakfast on the morning of the 6th with coffee or chocolate, or better still accompanied in a local bar with vermut !
- Whoever gets the slice of the cake with the small king is the “king” or “queen” of the day and will have good luck for the rest of the year. Many roscones come with a cardboard crown for this person to wear.
- On the other hand, whoever finds the haba bean has to pay for the roscón the following year!
And so ends El Dia de los Reyes, the last day of Christmas !