Spain Celebrates Three Kings Day
On the 5th January the end of Christmas is marked in most Spanish towns by “la cabalgata” (the cavalcade): a parade through the streets to mark the arrival of Los Tres Reyes Magos, literally "The Three King Wizards" but more commonly interpreted as “the “Three Wise Men” or "The Three Kings". According to the Christian faith the Three Kings (Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchior) arrived twelve days after the birth of Jesus, bearing their famous gifts of gold, and frankincense and myrrh. Today, “the Three Kings” parade through their local community showering children with sweets. The Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (the Three Kings Parade) in Alcoy, Alicante, is believed to be the oldest example of this celebration dating back to at least 1866. Here it all starts on the 4th January when a Royal Ambassador rides through the streets proclaiming the impending arrival of the Three Kings. The ambassador is accompanied by 10 donkeys carrying the royal post boxes on their backs. It is into these boxes that children post their Christmas Wish lists addressed to the Three Wise Men ready for the distribution of gifts on the following night. When night falls on the 5th January, the “Three Kings” make their entrance into the town on camels. Declared a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in 2001, the procession in Alcoy today involves more than one thousand locals, playing the part of pages, torch bearers, servants, soldiers, musicians and dancers; and of course the star roles of Melchor, Gaspar and Balthasar.
I reckon the royal pages have the best part for it is they who have the job of handing over, to the children, the presents that are carried on the lorries which follow the procession. Many of the pages climb long wooden ladders (a Health & Safety Nightmare!) to climb over the balconies into the houses along the route in order to deliver their goodies. On the downside they have to give pieces of ‘coal’ to the naughty children.
After their local parade children throughout Spain return to their homes to prepare for the arrival of the Three Kings. Traditionally it is on Three Kings Day, 6 January, that children receive presents delivered by Melchor, Gaspar and Balthasar, with the latter credited as being the chief present giver. In recent times Father Christmas has started to muscle in on the act with some presents being given on 24/25 December. Currently there are no recorded complaints, by children, about having two deliveries!
On the eve of Three Kings Day the tradition is for the children to place their shoes on the windowsills and fill them with straw, carrots and barley for the donkeys, and sometimes they might also leave milk and biscuits for the Three Kings.
Naturally the ‘Big Day’, 6 January, arrives with much excitement as children wake up to see how many presents they have received. Also traditionally on this day for breakfast families enjoy a piece of "Roscón de Reyes", a ring shaped pastry with a taste similar to a hot cross bun, It is said that those who find a novelty in his or her portion will have good luck for the following year.
If you are in Spain for the beginning of the New Year we recommend you go along and watch your local Three Kings Parade; and if you are in Alicante then you could visit the oldest one of all at Alcoy.