The Three Kings - Los Reyes Magos

by Ainhoa Barrio - 22 December 2013

the-three-kingsTraditionally, children in Spain receive their Christmas presents on the 6th of January to represent the gifts that the Three Kings brought to baby Jesus shortly after his birth in Bethlehem.

Legend has it that the Three Kings saw a shooting star in the sky that led them all the way to Bethlehem. On the way there, they met King Herod, who asked them to report to him on their way back, so he could go and worship the newborn baby as well. Herod's true intentions were to kill the baby so as to remain King of the Jews until the end of his days. An angel appeared to the Kings and informed them of Herod’s real intentions and as a result, the Three Kings decided to go back a different way.

The celebration of this tradition starts on the 5th of January, with La Cabalgata; a parade along the streets of most cities in Spain. As well as seeing the Three Magic Kings parading down the roads on their carriages, or sometimes camels, other fantasy characters will walk along, throwing sweets into the crowds!

This is one of the children's favourite activities during the Christmas period since not only they get plenty of sweets but also they have a great time trying to grab them as they fly! After the parade, the Three Magic Kings spend time with some of the younger children making sure they have behaved well through out the year.

Melchor usually goes first; he has white hair and a long white beard. He's the one who brought gold to baby Jesus.

Gaspar has brown hair and a brown beard and comes after Melchor. He brought Frankincense to Jesus.

Baltasar is the black king and usually has no beard. He brought myrrh to baby Jesus.

It is common in Spain to ask children to write a letter to Los Reyes Magos, or the Magic Kings at the beginning of the Christmas period. Then, on the evening of the 5th of January, children should place their best pair of shoes, properly cleaned and groomed up, under the Christmas tree. If the children have behaved well throughout the year, they are likely to get some, if not all, of the presents. Otherwise, they may find pieces of sugar coal waiting for them on their shoes.

Some families also like to leave a treat near the Christmas tree for their night visitors. It is customary to leave a bowl of milk for the camels, some cereals and biscuits; and even a glass of sherry for the Three Kings.

The morning of the 6th of January is always very exciting. The young ones are usually the first ones up, looking forward to opening their presents. For breakfast there is the Roscon the Reyes, a round brioche cake with a little present hidden inside. The person who get's the present is usually the one to pay for the cake! Many people have a piece of Roscon de Reyes with their usual morning coffee, but for a real treat, and one of the things kids love the most, they often dip the cake into a Spanish chocolate caliente, a thick and intense hot chocolate drink. 

Ainhoa Barrio is a Spanish food, drink and culture writer who lives in Barcelona.

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