Editions:  Austria · Denmark · France · Germany · Italy · Norway · Spain · Sweden · Switzerland
Advertisement

Why Spain loves the Three Kings more than Santa

Share this article

Why Spain loves the Three Kings more than Santa
Photo of one of the three kings during Tenerife´s 2015 three kings parade: Desiree Martin/AFP
12:20 CET+01:00
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.

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.

Every city and sizeable town stages a parade, and 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 Plaza de San Juan de la Cruz, from where it will procede down the Castellana, ending in front of the city hall at Plaza Cibeles at 9pm. Big crowds are expected,

In Barcelona, the Three Kings will arrive by boat at the city’s port Moll de la Fusta 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 9pm at the magic fountain of Montjuïc. 


Photo: Mutivac42 / Flickr

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. The Alcoy celebration includes dozens of children who 'black-up' to represent "negro page boys" who deliver the presents on behalf of the Kings (see picture above).

Umbrellas are always required

Photo: jacinta lluch valero / Flickr

Even if the skies are clear and there is no forecast for rain, you will see children brandishing umbrellas as they line the parade route. The reason becomes clear as the King's approach and the umbrellas are opened and turned upside down becoming the ideal receptacle for catching the handful of candies thrown into the crowds.

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. 

In 2016 for the first time ever 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."

Some town councils  have chosen to replace a King in the parade with a Queen all in the spirit of equality but causing outrage amongst traditionalists. This year, one parade in Madrid will include a drag queen to highlight diversity and "bring visibility to the LGBTI" community.

Roscón de Reyes 


Photo: El Coleccionista de Instantes Fotografía & Video/Flickr 

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.

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.

This year El Corte Inglés has hidden gold ingots inside 251 of the Roscón cakes sold from its stores across Spain - which would be a sweet surprise for someone to find in their slice on January 6th. 

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.

 Another lottery

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 an estimated prize pool of €630 million.

Extended holidays

The very best thing about the Three Kings - apart from the presents, the parade and the cake - is that Spaniards are guaranteed another day off work and children don't go back to school until after Epiphany. 

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.


Photo: AFP

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.

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.

Roscon bakers have taken to hiding real treasures in their festive cakes, including gold ingots from the Corte Ingles - which would be a sweet surprise for someone to find in their slice on January 6th. 

Get notified about breaking news on The Local

Share this article

Advertisement

From our sponsors

Game-changing flight tips for smart business travellers

Whether you’re flying for business or pleasure, you don’t need to break the bank when booking your next transatlantic flight. As one travel blogger explains, there are ways to fly in style without forking out for a first-class ticket.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement