While on Christmas Eve, many children go to bed hoping to be on Santa’s nice list and looking forward to waking up the next morning to loads of presents underneath the Christmas tree, this tradition is still gaining popularity in countries where the Three Wise Men (Los Tres Reyes Magos) have traditionally been more popular Father Christmas.
This means that while in many countries Christmas is over come January 2nd, in Spain or Mexico, the holidays last until January 6th.
Popular Christmas carol aside, we need to take into consideration the “12 days of Christmas” festivity. This period, spans between the birth of Christ on December 25th until January 6th with the coming of the Magi
The coming of the Magi is the journey made by the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem, to confirm Jesus as the son of God.
This journey is no doubt, one of the most evocative and popular tales in the Bible.
Advent, are the four weeks before Christmas. It starts four Sundays before Christmas and ends on December 24.
The Epiphany, or Three King’s Day happens on the 12th day of Christmas, so for Christians around the world, the official end to the Christmas holiday is January 6th.
This day commemorates how a star led the Magi- the Three Kings or Wise Men- to the baby. The three Wise Men are Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior and they came from the East following a star.
In the Western church tradition, Melchior is usually represented as a king of Persia, Balthasar as a king of Arabia and sometimes Ethiopia, and Gaspar as a king of India.
According to Matthew 2:1, 2, on the night of Christ’s birth, a mysterious light appeared in the sky that persisted in the western heavens.
The three Kings’ determined to go in search of the Messiah, travelled to offer the baby three allegorical gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In the Christian world, the Epiphany celebrations on January 6th are traditionally just marked by a mass and they are not associated with gift giving, despite the Three Wise Men’s gifts to the baby.
However, there is one country where this day is associated with gift giving, Spain.
In this European nation, the Three Kings Day (El día de Reyes) is now deeply rooted in their culture. Since the 19th century, Spanish towns and cities have been putting on parades to mark this occasion the evening of January 5th.
The Day of the Kings is indeed a very important day for Spanish children. They eagerly await for the Three Wise men to bring them presents while they sleep the evening of January 5th.
This tradition of celebrating the Three Wise Men is also present in some Latin-America countries where the Spanish had some influence such as Mexico or Argentina amongst others.
It is also celebrated in some central European nations such as Belgium, Austria, Poland or Germany ( in Cologne Cathedral there is the shrine of the Three Kings which is the largest reliquary of the middle ages), and in some parts of France, Italy and Portugal but nowhere are the Three Wise Men as cherished and celebrated as in Spain.
That day, children fill the streets to enjoy the “Dia de Reyes” parade. These parades are quite big and colourful. The main ones take place in Madrid or Barcelona, these cities put on quite the extravaganza show in their streets.
The parades are loved by the children and so they are light-hearted and fun rather than religious.
During the parades, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar wave happily to the children while throwing them candy.
In the parades, Melchior is represented as an elderly man with long white hair and a beard; Caspar as a middle-aged man with a blond beard and hair; and Balthasar is a black king and the one without a beard.
Whereas Santa Claus is gaining popularity due to the cultural influence of the English speaking world. The “Dia de Reyes” is just as big in Spain as the “Dia de los Muertos” in Mexico.
And just like the letters to Santa all the way to the North Pole, the Spanish children write letters to the Three kings, requesting presents.
Children also leave their shoes out overnight to find little presents inside. They also leave snacks and drinks for the Three Wise Men and their thirsty camels.
The 6th of January or the 12 day of Christmas, is also a family day and a very exciting day for the kids playing with their new presents.
There is usually a big family meal where the star of the show will be the popular “Roscon de Reyes”.
A sweet circular bread with sugar and dried fruits on top. Some of them have cream in the middle too.
The Roscon de Reye will have a little figurine of a king or queen hidden inside, and whoever finds it ,gets to play king or queen for the day.
There’s also a bean somewhere in the cake and whoever gets it, will have to buy the “Roscon de Reyes” the following year.
This sweet treat tradition is also very popular in Mexico and quite alive too in Southern California because of the Mexican influence.
So whether you are waiting for Santa or the Three Kings to bring you some presents, just make sure you have been good . Merry Christmas!