Monday, January 20, 2014

Dia de los Reyes Magos: Three Kings Day in Spain

The Christmas season in Spain is a lot longer than in the US. Dia de los Reyes Magos is the official last day of Christmas. This holiday is celebrated all throughout the Spanish speaking world. It is the 12th day after Christmas and is called Epiphany in the Christian calendar. On this day, the Kings called Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar arrived to Bethlehem bearing gifts for the baby Jesus.

In Spain, preparations for this holiday start weeks before. Children write letters to the kings telling them what presents they would like. As the day gets closer the bakeries start redecorating their windows with Roscon de Reyes or a Kings Cake. This is a circle shaped sweet bread often filled with a cream. The top of the cake is decorated with candied fruits which are meant to represent the gems on the King’s robes. Inside the cake, there is a a bean and/or a baby figurine. The person who finds the baby is supposed to host the next party, and the person who finds the bean has good luck for the whole year! Like I mentioned in my post American Christmas vs. Spanish Christmas, most Spanish families have a Nativity scene in their house. The night before Three Kings Day, the three kings are placed in the Nativity scene. Children often will leave out some hay for for camels and some candies for the kings.

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Just some of the people waiting for the parade to start
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Beautiful sunset!
The most exciting part of the whole holiday is the Parade! In all of Spain’s history, this is the longest standing parade. In Valencia it starts at the port where the Kings arrive by boat. A few hours later, the actual parade starts with the kings in the Turia River bed and they go all through the old town and end at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. It starts around 6pm, but people are in their spots as early as 12pm! It pays to have a spot close to the street during this parade because all the floats have candy and small toys which are thrown out to the crowd. The parade lasts about an hour and a half and includes music, dancing, costumes, animals, elaborate floats and of course the Kings!

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Umbrella, AKA candy catcher
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This man and his helpers were collecting the rest of the cards for the kings, there were lots to collect!
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So, who gets to be the Kings? This is usually decided by who has had something exciting happen during the year. It can be sports stars, politicians, people from the neighborhoods who have done good things for the schools. Really anything that makes the public recognize you as a good person can get you nominated for a spot as one of the Kings. For this reason, something that is incredibly taboo in the US is completely alright here. The last king (and most people’s favorite), Baltazar, is traditionally a Spanish man done up in black face. It was definitely a huge shock the first time I saw some pictures!

Here is a little compilation of all the videos I took during the parade. The last three videos are of the kings!