Arguably bigger than Christmas in Spain, the Three Kings Festival (or Fiesta de los Reyes) celebrates the arrival of the three wise men on January 6th to visit baby Jesus in Bethlehem. This festival is marked by parades, feasting and gift giving.
During the build up to Fiesta de los Reyes, people visit beléns – models of the nativity. Some are incredibly detailed and very large, with working models and rivers. Even small villages will probably have a belén, and the ones in larger towns and cities are definitely worth checking out if you are in Spain during the Christmas period.
Letters to the three kings
Rather than send letters to Santa, children in Spain write their letters to the three kings, or tres reyes – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. Many town squares, often in the same bit as the belén have a letter box with three openings so you can post your letter to your favourite king!
Nearly all major towns will have parades on January 5th. We went to a seaside town near us, Los Alcázares to see the parade there. There were floats with each of the kings, throwing sweets and gifts to the crowds. Some enterprising kids followed alongside a float with bin bags to catch as many sweets as possible!
One interesting thing is the use of “blackface” is still kind of acceptable in Spain. One of the kings (Balthazar) hails from Africa so is always portrayed as a man of colour. People from other parts of the world (ask Justin Trudeau) might find it strange or even offensive!
As well as the kings there were plenty of dancing groups, musicians and various circus-type performers. The atmosphere was wonderful and I can highly recommend this parade. Of course if you can make it to one of the big cities, such as Murcia city or Cartagena the parades are even bigger. We like Los Alcázares as it is not too far, and the parking is easy. Although I think we will try a different town or city every year.
The traditional cake that is eaten at this time of year (usually for breakfast!) is known as Roscón de Reyes. It is a circular sweet dough filled with cream and decorated with sugared pieces of fruit. I can highly recommend this delicious cake!