The joy of learning a new language and culture is discovering all the similarities between us as well as the differences. The Christmas tradition varies on a theme as you move throughout Europe and Spain is no exception, with the Reye Magos – the Three Kings – traditionally Spain’s main festive holiday. Indeed, according to a 2015 survey (thelocal.es) they are Spanish children’s favourite gift givers, with 67% preferring the Three Kings compared to just 27% preferring Santa!
Who are the Three Kings?
Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar are the Three Kings, or Wise Men, who came bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh for the newborn baby Jesus according to the New Testament. Traditionally, they arrived on the Epiphany, though the festivities begin the evening before.
What is the Cabalgata de los Reyes?
The Three Kings Parade is the biggest of Spain’s festive celebrations and also the oldest official one, originating from an 1885 declaration from the Spanish government for a parade to mark the special occasion. Floats are decorated and garlanded, with the Kings and their helpers atop throwing sweets and candies into the assembled crowds. Madrid hosts the largest, with 100,000 people thronging the streets to greet the Kings, and in Barcelona gathering to watch them arrive by boat to the city’s Moll de la Fusta port! Málaga hosts a huge celebration that sees the city’s streets packed with people – all awaiting the special treats that shower the crowds.
A special festive treat – the Roscón de Reyes
This ring-shaped brioche cake decorated with bright candied fruits is usually also filled with fresh cream. Hidden within are two surprises – one, a toy or small figurine of the baby Jesus and the other a dry fava bean. The finder of the figurine is crowned the king or queen of the celebration, while the finder of the fava bean has to buy the Roscón the following year!
The Kings bring presents to the children of Spain and many of the traditions conected with this are similar to those associated with Santa. The night before their arrival, children leave out sweet treats for the Kings along with hay for their camels, traditionally set out along with their shoes. In the morning, they will eagerly check that the Kings nibbled their sweets, the camel ate the hay, and most importantly, that their presents have arrived!
It is well worth going to see the Three Kings parade, with one taking place in Marbella tomorrow where the Reyes arrive by boat and another tomorrow in San Pedro, where the Reyes arrive by helicopter! More than worth while for the excitement of the crowds as well as the elaborate decorations of the floats, especially those in larger cities like Málaga.
Usually the Three Kings are different famous, or less famous, people from the local town. Can you guess which great Dutch soccer player was Balthazar back in 2013 in Marbella?