Christmas or Navidad reaches its traditional climax this evening with the arrival of Los Reyes (the Three Kings) in almost every city, town and village, ahead of the national public holiday tomorrow, January 6. This marks the Christian festival of Epiphany, when according to the bible the kings, having followed the star, arrived in Bethlehem with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In Spain, the Kings arrive and then make their annual parade which usually starts at dusk and goes through the centre of urban areas. Our local town parade, in Cuevas del Almanzora, starts at 5pm. It is organised by the Hermandad (Brotherhood) de la Virgen del Carmen de los Reyes.
And if you thought that Santa was everywhere, the Three Kings Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar (the African king) are able to appear simultaneously throughout Spain as evening falls on the Iberian Peninsula. Now, that’s powerful magic!
Their royal majesties don’t come empty handed. As they parade about towns with their entourage of locals smiling and waving from trucks, trailers and even floats they dutifully toss out handfuls of sweets to the children waiting in the streets as they pass.
Tonight, children are supposed to leave their shoes out to receive the gifts in the same way as other children hang up stockings for Father Christmas to fill. These children often send notes to the Kings, not Santa. These days, however, more families are turning to the Christmas tree as the place to pile gifts as the Kings’ spending power grows and shoes can no longer support the weight or volume of their delivery.
Some families set up their nativity scene in such a way as to be able to move the images of the wise men closer and closer to Bethlehem over the Christmas season. The idea is to have them arrive at the stable right on the 6th.
Breakfast is a special occasion on January 6 with the Three Kings’ Cake the centre of attention. This is a sweet bread that is adorned with dried fruits and sugar. Inside, bakers have hidden a small prize wrapped in paper as well as a bean. The one who finds the lucky prize is supposed to be King or Queen for the day while the one who ends up with the unlucky bean is traditionally expected to pay for next year’s Kings’ Cake – and considering that some of these cakes go for about 20 times the price of a loaf of regular, unsweetened bread (if you buy at a bakery instead of the supermarket), that could be an unhappy lot.
Tomorrow is a very special day throughout Spain as it is a day for families to come together for a special meal, gift exchanges and time together. It is very much like Christmas Day in North America or northern European countries.
Both Christmas Day and January 6 are getting about equal celebration with the children’s gifts often divided between the two days – except in families on the ‘No Santa’ side of the debate who persist in clinging to the old traditions thus making the kids wait until that very last day of the Christmas holidays for their presents.
Feliz dia de Magos Reyes – Happy Three Kings’ Day.