THE MAGICAL WAIT FOR THE THREE WISE MEN
The Feast of Epiphany is traditionally Spain's main festive holiday, when children receive their presents brought not by Santa Claus, but by the Three Kings.
The tradition here in Spain is that Los Reyes Magos, the Three Wise Men or the Three Kings, are the ones who bring gifts to children, on January 6th. According to Christian tradition, this was the day that Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar came to visit the baby Jesus and brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In Spain, the tradition of gift giving at Christmas is particularly special for children. They are the ones who await most eagerly the arrival of the Three Wise Men, who come in through the windows house by house, sharing out presents in just one night. They are not the only ones to have a good time, however. Grown-ups cannot help becoming infected by their happiness during the preparations for the big day: 6 January. Sharing the exciting wait with them is a gift of love and emotion. This Christmas tradition fills the little ones' days with unforgettable magic.
First of all, children have to write their letter to the Three Wise Men, saying which presents they would like them to bring. After this comes one of the favourite moments: giving the letter in. They can either give the letter to the Wise Men personally when they arrive "officially" on 5 January, or to the emissaries and royal postmen to be found in the centre of all Spanish towns a few days before. They will be asked if they have been good at school and at home, because naughty children get left coal instead of presents. Although, in truth, it is a "sweet" punishment because the coal is made of sugar.
Cabalgata de Reyes
Festivities officially start a day before La Adoración de los Reyes Magos. On January 5th, all around the country, everybody gets out to enjoy the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos, a reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings. Surrounded by dancers, musicians, and puppeteers, the Kings ride on camels or elaborate floats and throw candy or sweets down to the children. The spectacles are broadcast live on Spanish television.
Every city and sizeable town stages a parade, and one of the biggest, in Madrid, draws crowds of 100,000 people.
Later on the evening of January 5th, kids leave out their shoes in a spot where the Kings are sure to see them. They also set out plates of food or sweets for los Reyes, and something for the camels too, either dried grass or hay, or milk and bread. The next morning, children are delighted to discover that los Reyes have tasted the food or eaten it entirely. But most importantly, next to their shoes are the wrapped presents from los Reyes Magos, waiting to be ripped open.
Roscón de Reyes
Another important tradition, after the gift-opening, is breakfast with Roscón de Reyes, a delicious round cake with candied fruit on top. The fruit symbolizes the precious gems on the Wise Men’s clothing. Inside the cake, there are two plastic figurines: the king and the faba bean. Whoever gets the slice of cake with the king is the king (or queen) of the banquet, and will also have good luck for the whole year to come. And whoever gets the faba bean, will pay for the roscón next year.
For those who didn’t become rich with El Gordo, the Christmas lottery drawn in Spain on December 22nd, there is a second chance with El Niño, the January 6th draw that offers a prize pool of €700 million!
While in other countries, Christmas decorations have been packed away and normal working life has resumed, in Spain the holiday spirit continues until January 6th.
Although sightings of Papa Noel (Santa Claus) are becoming more common in recent years, La Adoración de los Reyes Magos is, historically, the most important Christmas tradition in Spain.