What is Three Kings day?
Firstly, it always falls on January 6th (Epiphany) and secondly there is a wonderful run up to this special day. Three Kings Day or Dia de los Reyes is the day that most children in Spain receive their Christmas presents. We are told in the bible that the Three Kings or Three Wise men went to Bethlehem following a star that lit the way to baby Jesus. Baby Jesus had just been born and in celebration they offered three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. As a result, the giving of gifts came to be associated with Three Kings Day.
How the children prepare for Three Kings Day!
Every year as Christmas approaches, all the children begin to write letters to the Kings. Sometimes only to one and sometimes to all three kings, Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar. The children write to the Kings to let them know if they have behaved well throughout the year. Though it is unlikely children will write that they have been naughty. It is thought, the better the children behaved, the better their presents may be. However naughty children may just receive a piece of coal but to clarify even this is a sugary sweet!
Three Kings Day parade!
Subsequently each year the Three Kings visit all the children in the villages to listen to the children’s requests and to collect their letters. In addition, some towns and cities also feature a special postbox. On January 5th, the three kings’ will parade through town. The parade known as la cabalgata, during which the Kings throw sweets to the crowd normally begins shortly after dark. In the cities some savvy bystanders hold their umbrellas upside down to catch as many sweets as they can. We loved this parade in Competa last year with characters such as Pluto, Donald Duck and Dora the Explorer joining the Kings!
Having watched the Three Kings parade through the town the children rush home to prepare. They clean their shoes and place them ready for the kings to see, so that they know who to leave which gift for. But in more modern times the shoes can no longer hold the larger gifts, so the gifts are set alongside the shoes. Children know the kings have travelled a long distance, so they leave water, Turrón and milk for the kings and their camels. Turrón is a typically Spanish nougat, a cross between fudge and the more traditional nougats that we know. It is delicious and normally made from honey, sugar and egg white with added toasted almonds or nuts. It is found in abundance across Spain at Christmas time, we are always requested to bring plenty back to the UK.
Three Kings Day in larger cities.
In the larger cities and towns the Three Kings Day parade is a major affair. The parade has many, many floats adorned with actors and artists. Even Spanish TV broadcast the larger parades. Historically of course the Kings arrived on camel. However, in more recent times they can be found arriving by other modes of transport. Such as on horses in Madrid and by boat in Barcelona and Valencia. In fact, in the village of Alarilla, in Guadalajara, they are daring enough to arrive by hang-glider and paraglider. In these larger cities, the parades are big events. They can go on for several kilometres and last a couple of hours, for example it is estimated a 100,000 people attend the parade in Madrid each year. Alcoi, Alicante is on record as the oldest recorded parade in 1885.
Epiphany on January 6th
On January 6th an important part of celebrations is the sharing of the King cake or Roscon de Reyes. This sweet bread bake is a traditional ring-shaped pastry decorated to look like a crown and so delicious that it is fit for a king. It is often topped with glazed fruits, characterising the jewels on a crown. Filled with a sweet cream, inside is a hidden surprise often a figurine of baby Jesus or a tiny king. The lucky recipient who finds it in their slice is said to have good luck for the year!
Last year, my slice included an owl pencil sharpener and I did have a very lucky year, who knows if the owl played a part? Sometimes a bean is included in the bake and should your slice have the bean, then you have to buy the cake the following year. We had a fabulous time during these few days, we had arrived on our own but we were soon gathered up to join groups. It is one of our favourite Fiestas in Competa, filled with locals, all welcoming you with open arms and noisy children with happy faces.
In Spain, another reason to celebrate is that Epiphany is one of the many national holidays.
Do the Spanish celebrate Christmas?
Despite Christmas day being a national holiday, it is a lower key event than that of its counter part the Three Kings. However in Spain, Christmas Eve is also a special day and families gather together for a big meal of seafood, pork or lamb. This is called Nochebuena which translates as ‘Good night’. Dora the Explorer sang a song titled Nochebuena and perhaps this is why she features at the Competa, Three Kings parade. If you know of a another reason, we would love to know?
Many children receive smaller gifts at Christmas with their larger gifts opened on January 6th.
Do Spanish children prefer Santa Claus or the Three Kings?
In a 2015 survey, 63% of Spanish Children overwhelmingly said they preferred their gifts from the Three Kings with 27% choosing Santa Claus. The children’s favourite king is Baltasar as he is the one believed to leave the gifts.
A Three Kings story to melt your heart…
I wanted to use this blog to give a shout out to Tamara Essex and her blog ‘Sunburnt Angels’. Above all, the blog showcases the tireless work of Los Ángeles Málagueños de La Noche! Do give it a read, you will be glad you did, especially the part about the football! All children deserve the hope of Three Kings Day and to be able to participate, don’t they?
Why come and stay with Competa Escapes for Three Kings?
Life is short and January can be a flat month, so banish those blues and come and stay with us in one of our Competa pueblo holiday accommodations. Where, when celebrating the Dia de los Reyes with us, you can view the tradition of the Three Kings first hand. Large cities can be busy and impersonal on the other hand in Competa there is an intimate welcoming vibe. Come and stay in the Competa Escapes Townhouses so you will be close to the action. You don’t need to drive anywhere because No 9 is tucked away in a corner of the main square and No 17 is less than a minute’s walk. The houses are ideal for winter because they are both heated throughout. Have a look at our website for more information and availability.