Traditions: Los Reyes Magos
If you’re starting to feel blue about the Christmas season coming to an end, you’ll be happy to know that in Spain the festivities don’t end here! Did you know that in Spain they don’t celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus bringing presents? In fact, most Christmas traditions in Spain have to do with family and food. And, even though there is a tradition of receiving small gifts on the 24th of December in Catalonia (as well as other regions as more and more children celebrate an ‘Americanized’ holiday), the main present day is on the 6th of January—El día de los Reyes Magos. This holiday, which can be translated to The Day of the Magic Kings or Three Kings Day, greatly lengthens the Spanish Christmas season.
Biblically speaking (and keeping in mind that Spain is still a fairly Catholic country, at least in their traditions), these kings—also translated to the three wisemen—are those which bring the baby Jesus gifts after his birth. Therefore, it seems logical that the the representation of these figures should bring gifts to Spanish children. Like for Santa, it is common for kids to leave out drinks or food for the Kings on the eve of Three Kings Day, thanking them for the gifts.
Traditionally these gifts were small enough to fit into shoes and children left their shoes out on the 5th with the hope that they would be filled the next day. However, perhaps with the influence of Santa Claus, gift size has grown and using shoes to receive gifts is not so common anymore. At the same time, those kids who were not good during the year may receive carbón, or coal, instead of presents.
In addition to the gifts, there are two main events that accompany the day of the Three Magic Kings:
La Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (The Three Magic Kings’ Parade)
This parade takes place on the 5th of January and usually consists of floats for each of the Kings, in addition to floats for various organizations from the community. In this way, many churches and kids groups are incorporated into the festivities. For those who don’t want to ride in the parade, there are often hard candies thrown from the floats for the viewers. The parade also symbolizes an opportunity for kids to tell the Kings what they want and explain why they deserve presents at all.
Note: Something newcomers often found slightly odd when seeing their first Three Kings representation is that for the black King (there are two Caucasian Kings, and one black one) they paint the face of non-black person from the community black. This still surprises us because in most communities there are some black people, but it is almost 100% of the time that the black King has his face painted.
El Roscón de Reyes (a typical cake)
This is a special cake in a circular form with a hole in the middle and the dough usually has dried or candied fruit. The cake may be filled with whipped cream or chocolate and usually decorated with nuts or more candied fruits. In addition, small objects may be baked inside the cake, each one representing different meanings—the dried bean (haba) usually means that you should pay for the cake, where as other objects (or money) can mean that you should be ‘crowned,’ basically becoming the ‘king’ for the day. The roscón is enjoyed with family or friends on the 6th of January. Cakes are typically in high-demand and ordered in advance from bakeries (which can get costly), but you can also find more basic versions for about 10 euros at your local supermarket. For more details on the this tradition, check out our additional article about el roscón de reyes.
Note: In different places, the different objects mean different things—in some regions in Spain finding the haba means that you are ‘king’ for a day.
Check it out and let us know what you think—would you trade Santa for the Kings?