The Spanish Christmas tradition of los Reyes Magos
Feeling sad that Christmas has come and gone? In Spain, the season culminates on the 6th of January when children and families celebrate the arrival of los Reyes Magos. Who are they and why are they even bigger celebrities than Santa? Read on to find out.
A Spanish Christmas tradition
The día de los Reyes is better known as the feast of Epiphany in English. Although the Spanish are starting to celebrate Christmas as the years go on the day of the Three Kings continues to be the bigger and more popular holiday.
Who are Los Reyes Magos?
Los Reyes Magos – known as the Three Wise Men, or Three Kings in English – are three men who followed the North Star to the town of Bethlehem to welcome baby Jesus into the world. Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar travelled from a faraway place to gift the Son of God with gold, incense and myrrh.
For this reason, the celebration of the arrival of the kings comes with the children also receiving gifts in celebration of this religious holiday.
It’s not Jesus, Saint Nick, or Santa that brings gifts – it’s the Three Kings!
Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos
On the evening of January 5th, everyone takes to the streets to celebrate the arrival of the kings. Children and their families line the streets to enjoy the parade (cabalgata), waiting anxiously to get a peek at the men who will be delivering their presents that night.
Most parades are elaborate events with dancers, musicians, lights – the works! They’ll often throw candy down to the children too. Some cheeky adults will even get in there with their upside-down umbrellas to help the kiddos catch more candies!
The religious monarchs love sweets just as much as children do. So when they arrive home from the parade, kids will leave out plates of treats for the kings. And you can’t forget about the camels – they’re left dry hay or straw to sustain them for their arduous gift-delivering journey.
Celebrating Three Kings’ Day
On the morning of January 6th, children typically open the presents left by the Kings. But only if they’ve been good – if they’ve been naughty, they receive coal!
In the past, children left out their shoes and this is where the Kings would leave the presents. Now that presents have increased in size, they’ll usually find them under the tree.
The day of the Three Kings is taken as seriously as any holiday in Spain and this means plenty of food along with a big celebration! After the presents have been opened, an extravagant lunch with many courses usually follows.
Appetizers are usually cured meats and cheeses while the main course depends on location. It could be seafood, lamb or other meat – either way, it’s always delicious.
Roscón de Reyes
Let’s not forget the most important part- dessert! The roscón de Reyes is a ring-shaped cake eaten on Three Kings Day. It’s usually like a sweet bread cake and can be plain or filled with cream. The dried fruits that top the cake represent the jewels on the Kings’ crowns.
Spending on the family, the roscón is eaten after arriving from the cabalgata on the evening of the 5th. Others eat it for breakfast on the morning of the 6th and some save it as a snack or for dessert after lunch.
The store-bought roscón holds two secrets: a dried fava bean and a small figurine of a king or a baby Jesus. Whoever finds the small figurine is pronounced king or queen of the feast and will have luck all the next year. They will also wear the paper crown that typically comes with the roscón. He or she who finds the bean has to pay for the roscón next year.