• Spain's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Why Spain loves the Three Kings
Photo: AFP

Why Spain loves the Three Kings

Jessica Jones · 4 Jan 2016, 12:26

Published: 04 Jan 2016 12:26 GMT+01:00

On "El Día de los Reyes" Spain and Latin American countries celebrate the biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the three Kings, also known as the three Wise Men or Magi. 


Photo: 
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: The Three Wise Men. Nina-no/Wikimedia

Kings are cooler than Santa 

In a 2015 survey, Spanish children overwhelmingly chose the Three Kings as their favourite gift giver (67 percent) over Santa Claus (27 percent). 

In Spain ‘Los Reyes Magos’ - Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar - play a similar role to Santa Claus in many other parts of the world. Spanish children write letters to the Three Kings, or Three Wise Men, who then bring the children gifts the night before, or on the morning of the Epiphany, January 6th.

In some houses children leave their shoes outside the door so that the Three Kings will fill them with gifts, often leaving bigger presents alonsgide.

Just as children in many other places leave out some food and drink for Santa, and a carrot for Rudolph, Spanish children make sure to leave a drink for each of the Three Kings and some food and drink for their camels - as this is the only night of the year when the animals eat and drink. 

Three Kings Parades 


Three Kings parade in Madrid in 2015. Photo: AFP

Huge Three Kings parades or ‘cabalgatas’ are held around Spain on January 5th. They are huge spectacles featuring hundreds of actors and are broadcast live on Spanish television.

One of the biggest, in Madrid, draws crowds of 100,000 people, including thousands of children eager to catch the sweets thrown into the crowd by the three kings themselves.

This year Madrid’s parade starts at 6.30pm in Nuevos Ministerios, from where it will process into the centre of the city, ending in front of the city hall at Plaza Cibeles at 8.45pm.

In Barcelona, the Three Kings will arrive by boat at the city’s port where they are greeted by the mayor, Ada Colau at 4.30pm.

The procession will begin at 6pm on avenida del Marquès de l’Argentera and weave its way through central Barcelona, ending at 9.30pm at the magic fountain of Montjuïc. 

The oldest Three Kings parade in Spain has taken place in Alcoy, Alicante since 1885. This year it will start at 6pm and end with a huge fireworks display in the centre of town. 

Controversy 


Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

The roles of the Three Kings in the famous parades have traditionally been played by city councillors. Because most are white, Balthazar has usually been played by a "blacked-up" white man, which has often been branded as racist by critics. 

This year, however, Madrid’s left-wing council has called time on the controversial tradition, promising to employ a black actor for the part "to reflect the integration and diversity that increasingly characterizes Madrid’s community."

Traditionalists are furious this year at the decision by some Madrid town councils to replace a King in the parade with a Queen, all in the spirit of equality.

Food 

On January 6th, Spaniards typically tuck into a Roscón de Reyes, a Three Kings cake baked in a ring and decorated with candied fruit and hiding a, sometimes lucrative, surprise.

Story continues below…

A small figurine of the baby Jesus, or a little toy for children, is typically hidden inside the dough, as is a dry fava bean. Whoever finds the toy is crowned king or queen of the celebration, while the one who finds the bean has to buy the Roscón next year.

Some bakeries have taken the hidden surprise to extremes this year. A Madrid bakery has hidden a diamond in one of its Roscón cakes, that it bought in a "prestigious jewellery shop in Madrid" according to its owner. 

Another bakery in La Bañeza, León, has hidden a cheque worth €7,000 in one of its Roscón cakes - which would be a sweet surprise for someone to find in their slice on January 6th. 


Photo: El Coleccionista de Instantes Fotografía & Video/Flickr 

Spanish Kings?

Might the three Kings originally have come from Andalusia? The last Pope thought so.

In his 2012 book  Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives Pope Benedict XVI claimed the gift-bearing trio came from Tarsis – or Tartessosa – a kingdom that historians place somewhere between the provinces of Huelva, Cadiz and Sevilla.

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jessica Jones (jessica.jones@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Recipe: How to make Spain's summer classic gazpacho
Gazpacho is the perfect lunchtime refresher in the summer heat. Photo: Harlan Harris / Flickr

Chilled, refreshing, and delicious, a bowl of gazpacho is a must during Spain's sizzling summer months.

Model found guilty of murder of Brit millionaire ex-boyfriend
Mayka Kukucova with British businessman Andrew Bush. Photo: Facebook

A Slovakian swimwear model has been found guilty for murdering her British millionaire ex-boyfriend at a court in Malaga.

Spanish bishop demands staff get 'anti-paedo certificate'
Stock photo of priests: AFP

The Bishop of Lleida has requested all staff, including priests and monks, prove they are not paedophiles.

Beach hogger fined in Spain for saving spot with umbrella
Tourists at a Spanish beach. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP.

Attempting to 'reserve' a spot on the beach of one Costa Blanca resort is being treated very harshly indeed.

Superfast undersea mega-cable to link US and Spain
It will be 16 million times faster than a domestic broadband connection. Photo: Oleg Zaytsev / Flickr

Your internet access is about to get a whole lot faster.

Travel chaos looms as Easyjet workers call strike in Malaga
Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP

Thousands of holidaymakers could be affected by the strike...

Spanish capital gripped by Champions League fever
Real Madrid fans. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

Madrid's two biggest teams will face off against each other in Saturday's Champions League final.

Colombia blames guerrillas for missing journalists
Demonstrators called for the release of Spanish journalist Salud Hernandez Mora in Bogota this week. Photo: Guillermo Legaria/AFP

The Red Cross has joined the search for three journalists missing in Colombia whose disappearance the government blamed on a leftist rebel group.

'Magical mystery tours' among top Spanish startups to watch
Rome is one of the possible secret destinations. Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr

A company that organizes surprise trips for people who don’t find out where they are going until 48 hours before departure could be one of Spain’s most interesting new startups.

Franco finally stripped of mayor title by Catalan town
Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Photo: AFP

Better late than never...

National
Stunning cave paintings found 300 metres below Spain
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Travel
Five good reasons why Extremadura should be on your bucket list
Lifestyle
Top Ten: Barcelona's coolest rooftop bars
National
Plane forced to dodge THREE drones to land in Bilbao
National
Spain launches campaign to stop English 'invasion'
Culture
Ten unique Basque words you need to learn right now
National
'It’s time to dig up Franco' say victims of Spain's dictatorship
Lifestyle
'Severe jellyfish stings' end Brit's Spanish swim feat
Sport
5 reasons why Spanish clubs dominate European football
International
Tesco to bring British tea and biscuits to Spanish stores
Culture
Bucket list: 16 brilliant things to do once in your life in Spain
National
Spain's Civil War victims to be exhumed from Franco's tomb
National
Two mums face jail for leaving kids in car to go out drinking
Education
Students at Spanish college forced to take exorcism class
National
Ten superb reasons why you need to visit San Sebastián
Society
Abused wife saved by hiding SOS note in son's homework
National
Look up! Rare meteor shower set to dazzle skies over Spain
Politics
Why Spain is heading for a Groundhog day election
Travel
Ibiza bans drinking in street… and that includes water
National
Expats didn't 'abandon' UK so ALL Brits should get EU vote
Features
What's on in Spain: May 2016
Travel
Discover Spain's breathtaking national parks
National
Couple caught on camera having sex on metro platform
3,357
jobs available