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The Three Kings

Mañana, mañana is a phrase that catches your ear often in Spain. There is always tomorrow, true, and I often wondered if the mañana attitude had anything to do with the late arrival of the Three Kings.

While in the UK most people back at work on January 5th and everyone has already made (and at least in my case, broken) their New Year resolutions, in Spain everyone is gathering to celebrate the main ceremony of the year.

There isn't much fuss made over the 24th and 25th, Christmas Eve and Day, as traditionally, Christmas is spent in a solemn and a religious atmosphere, dedicated to the concept of the remembrance of the birth of Jesus. Some have adopted a less religious, but more commercial and westernized Papa Noel tradition (a version of Santa Claus).

The Celebration Begins

The sonorous party fun begins on the Noche Vieja (Old night) on 31 December and continues leading up to the 12th day after Christmas. Eating the twelve grapes during the midnight countdown signifies that there is the time for the best siesta of the year yet to come. However, it is far from over. On 1 January, Spain continues to celebrate, while the UK has one day for recovery.

The three kings celebration, on the other hand, are the ones everyone in Spain is waiting for; literally. In the evening on the 5 January, people gather in the Plazas and wait for the spectacular arrival of Los Tres Reyes Magos. It is a worthwhile wait for the re-enactment of Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos.

The gathered crowds are charmed by all sorts of different characters on floats who throw sweets. The last ones to show up are the three kings, who arrive on their own floats and in some towns are supported by real camels. The cheering crowds and the procession then head to their final destination where they usually go onto a stage. In Madrid, this is in the Plaza de Cibeles.

While most people in the UK are already half way through their first week back at work, the Spaniards are not so quick in giving up on their winter break. The stress of breaking my New Year's resolution never affected me. As, unlike here in the UK or Czech Republic, the strict New Year detox diet was never part of the resolution plan back in Spain. Deep inside, I knew I would break it as many times as I made it, with all the delicious turrón and marzipan being served.

In Spain, you'd very often hear parents talking about the Three Kings to their children the way they do about Santa in the UK. If the children didn't behave, the Three Kings would not be bringing them any presents. 'Naughty' children were threatened with being given coal as a gift. Of course today this is a sweet punishment, as it's a coal resembling sweet, made of sugar beet.

Boxing day in the UK indicates that the main Christmas festivities are nearly over, in Spain this is one of the most exciting times for children who sit down to write letters requesting toys and presents.

The Feast

Once families return home from seeing the three kings arrive in the Plazas, they make sure to leave them some refreshments such as a mandarin, a glass of cognac, and chocolates or walnuts. Not to forget the camels, some milk and water is also left out. Before going to bed on the night, shoes are left out on balconies or windowsills for the three kings to put the presents in for each member of the family. Some balconies are decorated in the theme, encouraging the Three Kings to come up.

No Reyes meal would be complete though without the Roscón, a large and sweet doughnut shaped bread, often with a toy buried in the dough, bringing good luck to whoever finds it.

Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar: who symbolically brought to Jesus gold, incense, myrrh. However to modern Spanish children they bring whatever the children wished for in their letter. The day of the Reyes, is usually spent in close family circles, enjoying meals and visiting relatives, while children are left to enjoy their gifts. 

Maybe the Spanish are less stressed because they don't stress about being late (I've never seen them stressed over being late). They don't seem to worry about their holidays being over too soon, because they are not!

But after nearly a month of festivities, it does all end and the children and adults are faced with reality. Schools and business reopen again on the 7 January. An abrupt change to the Spanish, perhaps, but not to me as all I could think of was the fact that had I been living back in the UK, I would have been already staring at reality in the face for quite a few days already.


Michaela Rossi was born in the former Czechoslovakia and moved to the UK at the age of 19. She followed her husband on his work assignment to Spain in 2004 where their children were born. In 2011, they moved back to the UK, this time to Hampshire, where they love being outdoors, always admiring the beautiful English countryside and exploring their local area.

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