There is a certain charm about breaking with the usual and doing the unexpected. Christmas might be a season traditionally spent at home, with your family, in the peace and quiet of your home. Nevertheless, the holiday season also brings the opportunity to taste new experiences that can be all the more striking, just because they are so different. That is very much the case with the Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) a Spanish Christmas tradition that is marked by huge, spectacular parades in every city, town or village of the country, no matter how big or small, where sweets and presents are given to all!
When and where Is Reyes Magos?
Known in the Anglophone world as the Epiphany, the arrival of the Three Kings is defined in Spain by the enormous expectation and the tremendous annual celebrations that revolve around the event. Festivities officially start the evening before Epiphany, on the night of January 5, when the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Parade) takes place in every town and city, with hundreds upon hundreds of people crowding the main roads of the urban settlements in order to get a glimpse of the reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings into town.
Typically, people will be strolling down the roads, trickling into the major avenues or squares of the cities with ladders on their hands, ready to climb on the second or third row of people, hoping to come out with a bagful of candies and one or the other gift. Because in Spain, it is not the Baby Jesus, Santa Claus or St. Nicholas who brings gifts on Christmas Day, but rather the Three Kings, whose generosity is put to the test on January 6, the day of the Epiphany. Children, families, and entire cities throughout the country celebrate this major Spanish Christmas tradition.
Reyes Magos Traditions
With festive lights livening up the streets, Nativity scenes set up in various locations, and holiday tunes setting the holiday atmosphere, Spaniards celebrate the arrival of the Kings with a joyful parade called the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos. The kings ride upon horses or elaborate floats and throw goodies down to the children lining the streets. This is also traditionally the big opportunity for children to ask the Kings for presents.
That evening, before an early night in bed, children leave out their shoes in a spot where the Kings are sure to see them. The religious monarchs, just like Santa Claus, certainly love their sweets, so Spanish children often set out goodies to entice the Kings as well as hay to feed their camels. When morning arrives, children delightedly discover that the Kings nibbled the sweets, the camels ate the hay, and by their shoes there are wrapped presents just waiting to be torn into. The magical night comes to a close with another Spanish Christmas tradition: a typical breakfast of Roscón de Reyes, a ring-shaped cake decorated with fruits symbolizing the precious gems that adorned the royal trio’s lavish clothing.
Reyes Magos History
This celebration itself stems from the New Testament where it is stated that the kings, Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthasar, traveled by night all the way from the farthest confines of the Earth to bring gifts to Jesus, whom they recognized as the Son of God. As well as regal, the Three Kings are depicted as wise men, whose very wisdom is proved by their acknowledgement of Christ’s divine status. Arrived from three different directions, the kings followed the light provided by the star of Bethlehem, which reportedly lingered over the manger where the Virgin Mary gave birth for many days.
In 1885, the Spanish government called for a parade to mark the very special holiday. While the traditional scriptures tell of gifts of myrrh and gold and incense, these days the Kings are more prone to bringing candies and more practical gifts. It remains, however, a beloved tradition and also the longest standing parade in Spain.