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CHRISTMAS

Why Spain loves the Three Kings more than Santa

Even though Christmas Day is celebrated across Spain and the festive spirit is very much alive, Spaniards still tend to go 'all in' on January 6th with the arrival of 'los Reyes' (the Three Kings). Sorry Santa!

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

The Feast of Epiphany on January 6th 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 alongside.

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 usually enormous spectacles featuring hundreds of actors and are broadcast live on Spanish television. 

Every city and sizeable town usually stages a parade.


Photo: Mutivac42 / Flickr

The oldest Three Kings parade in Spain has taken place in Alcoy, Alicante since 1885. The Alcoy celebration traditionally includes dozens of children who controversially ‘black up’ to represent “pajes negros” who deliver the presents on behalf of the Kings (see picture above). Many say the tradition is offensive and perpetuates racist stereotypes.

Umbrellas are always required

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 Kings 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 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.”

Likewise in Barcelona, Balthazar is played by a black actor and is also accompanied by an entourage of black drummers and dancers. 

Some town councils have chosen to replace a King in the parade with a Queen all in the spirit of equality, however this has caused outrage amongst traditionalists.

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.

Each year El Corte Inglés hides gold ingots inside some of its 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 €700 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 may have been packed away and normal working life resumed, in Spain the holiday spirit continues until January 6th.


Photo: AFP

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CHRISTMAS

LATEST: What are the rules in place across Spain at New Year?

Amid rising infection rates some of the regional authorities across Spain have tightened restrictions over New Year.

LATEST: What are the rules in place across Spain at New Year?
Photo: AFP

Mallorca which is experiencing a steep rise in new infections has ordered bars and restaurants to close their outdoor spaces from 6pm while across the Balearic Islands social gatherings have now been capped at six people except in Ibiza where a group of 10 people can meet in the open air.

A 10pm curfew across the islands is to be extended for another forthnight.

Meanwhile Madrid  has placed new limitations on entering and exiting a further four Basic Healthcare Zones bringing the total restricted zones to ten.  

Catalonia has decided not to impose tighter restrictions but has opted to extend current rules for a further 14 days. 

Regional authorities in Extremadura are insisting that bars and restaurants close between 6pm and 8pm on New Year’s Eve and extended the measure to include the dates of January 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th.

In Cantabria, the curfew has been brought forward an hour to 00:30 and the number of people who can gather for a celebratory meal has been reduced to six on New Year’s Eve, four fewer than were permitted on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The Health Ministry has published an interactive map that allows you to check the restrictions currently in place in each of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions.

For a breakdown of the rules over New Year region by region, read on.

What are the rules on travel?

The Health Ministry plan agreed by the regions restricts travel between regions over the entire holiday period between December 23 and January 6 although it allows exceptions for visiting family and closest friends (described as allegados, a term that has proved controversial). However, some regions have tighted the restrictions and won't allow allegados while in Valencia all travel across borders is banned unless it is for those returning to their primary residence or for work/study purposes.

The Health Ministry guidelines allow an extension on the limit on gatherings from six to ten people on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day  and will also permit regional authorities to delay the curfew until 1.30am on New Year’s Eve, but not all regional authorities have chosen to do so and some have tighter restrictions in place.

Can we celebrate the Campanada? 

The “campanadas”  is how the Spanish refer to the bell chimes at midnight on New Year's Eve, an event that in normal years is often celebrated in large gatherings in town squares in front of clock towers. 

But all such gatherings are banned this year, although televised versions will be broadcast so viewers can watch at home and gobble a grape on each stroke of midnight to ensure luck and good fortune for the year ahead.

READ MORE: Why the Spanish see in the New Year with 12 grapes

What about the traditional New Year's Eve run? 

All sporting events, such as the traditional race of San Silvestre, a run which takes place on New Year's Eve in cities across Spain,  are cancelled and so too are events which draw crowds such as New Year’s Eve celebration in public squares (campanada) and the Three King  parades (cabagatas)

For more details on the Health Ministry plan READ HERE:

Within these guidelines, regional authorities have adopted their own measures so here’s a look at each one:

Andalusia

Spain’s southern region of Andalusia on December 18th lifted restrictions that have been in place since November and allow people to once again travel between its eight provinces.

However the ban on travel to and from other regions will remain in place until at least January 10th  except between December 23rd and January 6th when it will allow people to enter for the purposes of visiting family – but it has not included the term allegados (close friends).

A curfew is in place between 11pm and 6am except on New Year’s Eve when it is delayed until 1.30am.

Social gatherings are limited to six people except on December 31st and January 1st and 6th when ten are allowed.

From December 18th restaurants across the entire region will be allowed to open from the morning until 6pm and from 8pm until 10.30 pm.

The number of people allowed in shops, restaurants, on public transport and at religious events will depend on the level of alert of each municipality.

Full details can be found at the interactive map published by the regional government HERE:

Aragon

The regional border will remain closed except between the dates of December 30 and January 2 when an exception will be made for those travelling to meet family only – Aragon has also chosen not to include the term allegados.

Travel between the three provinces of Aragon – Teruel, Huesca and Zaragoza – is also not allowed except between the above dates and for family visits only.

A declaration form must be filled out for all trips across provincial and regional borders in Aragon which can be found HERE.

Curfew run betweens 11pm until 6am except on New Year’s Eve when it is delayed until 1.30am.

Social gatherings are limited to six people except on 31st and January 1st when ten are allowed in private homes.

At present bars and restaurants have limited capacity and must close at 8pm but will be allowed to open until 10pm on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.

Asturias

Travel in and out of the territory is banned except between December 23 and January 1 when an exception is made for those visiting family and close friends. (Asturias has chosen to allow allegados).

Authorities have  limited the number allowed at a social gathering to six, even on New Year's Eve, January 1st and January 6th and recommends that they represent no more than two households. 

The curfew has been delayed to half past midnight on New Year's Eve itself but remains at 10pm the rest of the days.

Visitors from outside the region aged between 18 and 30 must take a PCR test if they will be visiting households where over-65s or at-risk people will also be staying.

Balearic Islands

There is no travel ban on entering or leaving the islands but each island has different rules in place depending on its risk level.

But those arriving from outside the islands must present a negative PCR test or agree to isolate until an antigen test taken on arrivall comes back negative.

Mallorca currently is at level four which means a maximum of six people at social gatherings from only two households and this currently includes all dates over Christmas and New year.

In Mallorca the curfew runs from 10pm until 6am and restaurants must now close at 6pm even on New Year's Eve.

 

 

The other islands – Ibiza, Menorca and Formentera – the curfew starts at midnight and ends at 6am except on New Year’s Eve when it is delayed until 1.30am.

Social gatherings are capped across the islands to six people (except  Ibiza which allows ten if meeting in open air) but on all those except Mallorca, the limit increases to ten people on New Year's Eve from a maximum of two households.

 

 Canary Islands

The government of the Canary Islands have decided to ban non-essential travel to the island of Tenerife from Friday December 18th after a recent surge in infections.

For a period of two weeks, travel between municipalities on the island should be avoided, social gatherings would be limited to four people except on December 24, 25, 31 and January 1 and 6 when a limit of six is in place from a maximum of two households.The curfew would be brought forward to 10pm.

Tourists however, both from mainland Spain and abroad, are exempt from the travel ban provided they have accommodation booked and can show a negative Covid-19 test that was taken within 72 hours prior to arrival. 

Across all the Canary Islands apart from Tenerife, a curfew will be in place between December 23 and January 6 from 1am to 6am with the exception of Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when the limitation will start at the 1.30am.

All  foreign visitors to the islands will need to provide a PCR or TMA test (also known as a LAMP test), while an antigen test is valid for travelers coming from Spain.

Cantabria

The region has been closed since November 4th and will remain so over the Christmas period but it will allow make an exception for visits to family and close friends between December 23 and January 6 in accordance with Spain’s Health Ministry guidelines.

It has taken a last minute decision not to extend the limit and allow up to ten people to meet on New Year’s Eve but has capped the maximum at six following a rise in infections over Christmas. 

Authorities also reversed a decision to delay the curfew until 1.30am on New Year's Eve and instead delayed it until half past midnight.

Castilla y Leon

The region will remain closed until at least January 10 with exceptions for travel to visit family (not close friends) between December 30 and January 2 and January 5 to January 6.

A curfew is in place from 10pm until 6am except on  New Year’s Eve when it is delayed until 1.30am when travel to return to one's home is allowed.

It will also extend the limit on the number of people allowed to meet from six to ten on New Year's Eve and January 1 but recommends that groups are limited to a maximum of two households.

Castilla-La Mancha

Regional borders will remain closed over the Christmas period but it will allow make an exception for visits to family and friends between December 23 and January 6 in accordance with Spain’s Health Ministry guidelines.

It will also extend the limit on the number of people allowed to meet from six to ten on the dates of December  31 and January 1 but recommends that groups are limited to those within the same household or a maximum of two.

 A curfew is in place from midnight until 6am except on New Year’s Eve and January 5 when it is delayed until 1.30am

Catalonia

 

 

Regional borders will remain closed over the Christmas period but it makes an exception for visits to family and close friends between December 23 and January 6 in accordance with Spain’s Health Ministry guidelines.

In addition Catalonia extended a ban on travelling between comarcas (counties) from December 21 until January 11, although it makes exceptions for visits to family and close friends (allegados) or to stay in a second residence or hotel.

Anyone travelling between comarcas or across regional borders must fill in a declaration form which can be downloaded HERE

A curfew across the whole region at all times between 10pm and 6am but will be delayed to 1am on New Year’s Eve.

Social gatherings are restricted to six people but this will be extended to ten people on the important dates over Christmas holidays but limited to two households.

Restaurants and bars will only be allowed to open for limited hours over breakfast and lunch and must remain closed (except for take-away service) in the evenings.

Valencia

Valencia announced that it will seal off its borders completely over the Christmas and New Year period and not make an exemption for those wanting to visit family and friends contrary to guidelines issued by Spain’s Health Ministry.

Regional premier Ximo Puig at a news conference on Thursday evening said that until January 15, the only people allowed into the region will be those returning to their primary place of residence or because of justified reasons that include work or study.

The region has also capped social gatherings to six people from two households on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, instead of extending it to ten, as allowed under the state guidelines.

The curfew will be delayed only until midnight on New Year's Eve but kept at 11pm on all other days.

Madrid

 

Regional authorities in Madrid announced that it will not extend the limit allowed for social gatherings to ten people on those important Christmas dates but that groups must remain capped at six and with a maximum of two households.

The region will close its perimeter only between December 23 and January 6 but will make an exception for people to come and go if visiting family or close friends (allegados).

A justification form needs to be filled out by all travellers and can be downloaded HERE.

The curfew will be delayed until1.30 on New Year’s Eve.

However new confinement restrictions have been placed on four more Basic Health Zones within the region meaning ten zones now have limits on entering and exiting except for justified reasons. 

An interactive map showing the confined zones has been provided by the Communidad de Madrid.

 

Galicia

The region has no perimeter confinement around the region but it will do so following national guidelines between December 23 and January 6 except for those visiting family.

Visitors who arrive from places deemed high risk which includes Madrid, Catalonia, Castilla-La Mancha, the Balearic Islands, Valencia and Extremadura as well as abroad must register their arrival in Galicia with health authorities within 24 hours. The form to do that can be downloaded HERE. 

Social gatherings are limited to six even on the important holidays although children under ten are not included in this number. But the recommendation is that celebrations should just include one family unit although they can add one other if, for example, that person was elderly and lived alone.

The curfew is in place between 11pm until 6am except on Christmas Eve when it is delayed until 1.30 am. No decision has yet been taken to delay curfew on New Year’s Eve.

Other restrictions are in place in various municipalities across the region which are under perimetral confinement except between midnight on December 23 and 11pm on December 25th to allow people to visit close family.  For full info look at the interactive map below:

Extremadura

The region is one of the few in Spain which has not imposed a perimeter confinement around the region but it will close its regional borders following national guidelines between December 23 and January 6 except for those visiting family (but not close friends).

Regional authorities in Extremadura are insisting that bars and restaurants close between 6pm and 8pm on New Year’s Eve and extended the measure to include the dates of January 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th.

Social gatherings are limited to six in both private homes and restaurants except on December 31 when ten are allowed from the same family. (friends are not permitted).The curfew will be delayed from midnight until 12.30am for those returning home.

Murcia

The ban on travel in and out of Murcia will only be lifted between December 23 and 6 for those visiting family but not close friends, after authorities removed that exception following rising infections. 

On the dates of December 31 and January 1 social gathering has been extended from six to ten although with a recommendation that involves a maximum of three family units.

The curfew will be delayed from 11pm until 1.30 on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Bars and restaurants must close between 6pm and 9pm on the dates of December 24, 25, 31 and January 1.

Basque Country

The ban on travel in and out of the Basque Country will only be lifted between December 23 to 26 and December 30 to January 2 for those visiting family and close friends. Those doing so will have to complete the justification form required by regional authorities HERE

Social gatherings are limited to six except on December 24, December 25 and December 31 and January 1 when ten are allowed although from a maximum of two households.

The curfew will be delayed from 10pm until 1.30 on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Navarra

The ban on travel in and out of Navarra will only be lifted between December 23 to 26and December 30 to January 2 for those visiting family and close friends.

Travellers must fill in a form if crossing regional borders which can be downloaded HERE

Social gatherings are limited to six except on December 31 and January 1 when ten are allowed although from a maximum of two households.

The curfew will be delayed from 11pm until 1.30 on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

La Rioja

The ban on travel in and out of La Rioja will only be lifted between December 23 to 26 and December 30 to January 2 for those visiting family and close friends.

Travellers must fill in a declaration form to justify the visit which can be downloaded HERE.

Between those same dates restaurants and bars must close by 8pm except for take-away service.

Social gatherings are limited to six except on December 24, December 25 and December 31 and January 1 when ten are allowed although from a maximum of two households.

The curfew will be delayed from 11pm until 1.30 on New Year’s Eve.

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