The Spanish Language Blog

St. Nicholas in Spain...?

The feast of the "Three Kings" is an important holiday in Spain. Whereas in Holland all children look forward to the arrival of Sinterklaas, children in Spain look forward to January 5. For on this day, los Reyes Magos, the three kings arrive.

The story of Epiphany has its origins in a Bible story by the apostle Matthew. He describes the story of three Wise Men from the East, who, by following a bright star in the sky, go in search of the newborn King of the Jews. They eventually arrive at a stable in Bethlehem and find Mary here, with her newborn baby Jesus. The three kings - Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar offer Mary and the baby 3 gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As in the Bible story, the three kings also bring gifts for the children in Spain. Every year children write "la carta a los Reyes Magos," a kind of wish list of gifts they wish for. On the night of Jan. 5-6, children put their shoe on the balcony, under the Christmas tree or in front of the window so the kings can see them clearly. Some candy is also often laid out for the kings and some hay and sugar cubes for the camels. That night the three Kings go around all the houses and the next morning the candy and hay are gone and presents are waiting. But of course if the children have been nice all year, because those who have not been nice initially receive some carbón dulce, sweet candies that look like black coal. These are a warning for naughty children and can be compared to the roes or the sack of Sinterklaas with us in the Netherlands.

On January 5, parades called "la Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos" are organized in many places in Spain. The parade in the Spanish town of Alcoy in Alicante is considered the oldest Epiphany parade in Spain and descriptions of it have been found as far back as 1866. During the parades, the streets are filled with Christmas lights and music and are packed with parents and children. During the parade, floats move through the streets and on one of these floats are the three Kings. Sometimes the Magi are also on camels and horses march in the parade. From the floats, candy is often thrown to the children during the parade and sometimes small gifts. On the day of the entry, all schools are closed and every year Spanish television broadcasts the parade live, each year from a different city.

During the days before Epiphany, you can find specially baked wreaths everywhere, in a round shape and decorated with candied fruit and sugar, called "rosca de reyes" or "roscón de reyes" (the king's ring). Traditionally, this king's wreath is eaten for breakfast on Jan. 6. Often a bean is hidden in the wreath and the person who finds the bean is the king on that day and gets to decide what is done and eaten that day.

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