Traditions: Los Reyes Magos

Three Magic Kings

Dear Danny,

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 Catalunya (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, translated to the day of the Magic Kings.

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, thanking them for the gifts.

Kids don't want to miss the chance to put in a final good word with the Three Magic Kings at the  Cabalgata.

Kids don't want to miss the chance to put in a final good word with the Three Magic Kings at the Cabalgata.

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 I found slightly odd when seeing my 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 surprised me 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)

Be careful as you bite into the  roscón —you may find a surprise!

Be careful as you bite into the roscón—you may find a surprise!

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 being '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.

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?