The Holidays Continue with Three Kings Day in Spain
That’s right – just when you think things are calming down from Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, the party keeps going with Three Kings Day in Spain. It’s not the first time that we’ve celebrated this Spanish holiday and usually we experience it from our home in Dénia. It is a charming holiday to enjoy, especially if you are interested in Spain or visiting at this time of year. Celebrating Three Kings Day in Spain is a great way to experience its history, its delightful customs and witness how Spain celebrates it today in light of cultural adaptations of Santa Claus.
The History of Three Kings Day in Spain
How long have they been celebrating Three Kings Day in Spain? What is known is that Three Kings Day, which takes place on January 6th, is also the religious holiday of Epiphany. The earliest record of it being celebrated as a Christian Feast Day is from 361 A.D.
The Catholic Church, Christians and non-religious people alike, know this day to be the commemoration of the Biblical story of Jesus’s birth. It highlights the nativity scene and that on this date baby Jesus was ‘revealed’ to be the son of God, particularly by the event of the Three Wise Men, or Three Wise Kings, traveling to bring their gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold.
Spain is not the only country that celebrates Three Kings Day, which in Spanish is called Día de Los Reyes Magos. Other Latin countries and communities celebrate it worldwide.
Even in the US, certain neighborhoods in New York City put on parades and a few years back, Disneyland had great success featuring Three Kings Day celebrations in their parks, so they continue it each year. Mexico is particularly known for having some of their own distinct traditions in addition to those originally started in Spain.
The main traditions have to do with welcoming the Three Kings to leave gifts for good children, eating a dinner together with family (usually at home), and eating the Roscón de Reyes, which is a cake that has a little good-luck charm hidden inside.
We originally thought that the traditions of celebrating Three Kings Day as it is today, have been going on since the early 1900’s or even earlier. Fortunately, one of our local readers corrected us recently and let us know that the oldest records of the Three Kings Parade goes back to 1866 in the Valencia town of Alcoi. How it is celebrated ‘today’ is what we’ll get more into further below.
Read More: 15 Traditional Spanish Christmas Foods in the Valencia Community
Three Kings Day in Spain versus Santa Claus
The big question from those new to this tradition, is ‘Do the kids get gifts twice or twice as many gifts?’. Well of course, it all depends. We’re sure that some do get gifts on Christmas Day and Three Kings Day and some kids get twice the gifts.
What seems to be the common trend today is that kids get gifts on both holidays, but it’s more common that they get just a few gifts on Christmas Day and perhaps more or bigger gifts of significance on Three Kings Day.
Overall, Three Kings Day is still more popular among the kids in Spain than Christmas Day and Santa Claus are. The kids here in Spain just love their Three Kings and it’s definitely the equivalent of Santa Claus for them. But Santa Claus being able to take the place of the Three Kings one day? Not a chance anytime soon. We like seeing that.
Read More: Celebrating Christmas in Spain – Why and How
How to Celebrate Three Kings Day in Spain
Now to the funnest part – how Three Kings Day is celebrated. As any good holiday in Spain, there is food involved, family time, and colorful festivities out in the streets. The main celebration actually takes place the night before, on January 5th. This is when each village, town and city in Spain has a parade, featuring of course the stars of the show – the Three Wise Men or Tres Reyes Magos.
The parade is truly the highlight of the holiday. Even remote, small villages will have a parade that is usually quite elaborate and colorful. It has you wondering how the entire tiny population is not in the parade itself.
We learned this first-hand when in 2015 we spent our first Three Kings Day celebration together with Amalia’s mom and her boyfriend in their small village of Higuera la Real in Extremadura. It was really beautiful and amazing to see what a great parade they put together for such a tiny town.
Three Kings Day Parade in Denia, Spain
This year will be our third year enjoying the parade here in our town of Denia, Spain along the Mediterranean Coast. We have found it impressive! There are dancers in elaborate, colorful costumes and tall whimsical ferries on stilts walking about. Even gorgeous Spanish Stallions are ridden by riders dressed in historic Arabic garb depicting the time period of baby Jesus being born.
Then of course, bringing the elaborate parade to a grand finale, comes each of the Three Kings. They each ride on a separate float designed to look like giant chariots. From here each King throws out handfuls of candy, over and over to the crowd below.
Read More: Visiting Extremadura – An Insider’s 10 Enticing Reasons & Itinerary Tips
Above Image – See the candy hurtled into the air?
We’ve witnessed children, and even adults, diving under cafe tables, chairs and strollers to gather the pieces of candy that land on the ground. And watch out – quite a number of people get pelted pretty hard too – maybe that’s why paramedics were following behind each king’s float!
We’ve even heard that in many places throughout Spain, the children and adults will bring umbrellas with them, not in case it rains, but to open and turn upside to catch as much candy as possible. We don’t remember coming across that here in Denia, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it took place here as well.
After the parade in the town, families with children go home and set out the children’s shoes by the door so that during the night small gifts can be placed in them and larger ones around them by the Three Kings. Then at the foot of the children’s beds, families will leave out grass or hay as a treat for the camels and food and drink for the Three Kings themselves.
Yep, just like leaving out a carrot for Rudolph and cookies and milk for Santa. The day of January 6th, the kids wake up to find their gifts, sometimes following a trail of grass to where their shoes are, now full of gifts. Because after all, camels are messy!
The day of January 6th is celebrated having a home-cooked meal with the family at home and especially by eating the traditional Roscón de Reyes. This delicious, sweet cake is baked to resemble the crowns of the Three Kings. Some have a layer of cream in the middle, which is especially delicious.
But the special part about the Roscón de Reyes is that somewhere baked into the cake is a tiny figurine of baby Jesus or one of the Wise Men (sometimes it is a child’s tiny toy instead) and a dry fava bean. Whoever finds the figurine or toy is crowned King or Queen of the day’s celebration and whoever finds the fava bean has to buy the Roscón next year.
In 2012, Amalia experienced her first Three Kings Day celebrations in Madrid, Spain. She got the figurine of the king in her piece of Roscón and has carried it around with her ever since. Finding this figurine is also believed by some to mean special good luck for that year.
Why We Love Three Kings Day in Spain
Above Image – The parade in Denia usually begins at the Port, with the glorious sailboat masts as a backdrop.
Each time we experience Three Kings Day in Spain, we grow more fond of the holiday. The beauty, vibrancy and energy of community is electric. It’s so much fun for both children and adults alike. What stands out to us is that gifts and presents are not the highlight. The Three Kings are truly the focus, in a mystical and imaginative way.
We love the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus as well. It’s great that now living in Spain, we get to enjoy both holiday traditions. Of course, embracing this holiday that is still somewhat new to us, brings a thrill that we’re continuing to become more and more ‘Spaniard’, integrating into our new home even more. That is the biggest joy and delight for us.
Have you ever celebrated Three Kings Day and where? What did you think of the holiday? We would love to hear from you below in the comments.
Created by Amalia & Eric
Founders & Producers of Move to Traveling
We’re Amalia and Eric – a traveling couple who moved from the US to Denia, Spain. With our combined skills of travel consultant/writer and artist/film producer, we share resourceful stories to inspire and support your travel dreams. Let us know how we can be of help.
Well, it is older than 1900. The oldest records of Three King parades giving gifts to the children are from 1866 in Alcoi.
Hi Teresa. Thank you so much for being on our blog and for letting us know about the correction we need to make! We really appreciate that and have already updated the post to show this correction. Thank you again for the great information. That’s amazing the parades go back that far!