Los Tres Reyes - The Three Kings

Here in Spain, the Christmas season comes to a climax on January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany, with the arrival of the Three Kings (los Tres Reyes Magos) who bring gifts to Spanish children. To celebrate the arrival of the magi, many parades or cabalgatas take place throughout Spain on January 5th.

Our family Christmas card portrayed us as three queens, a comical nod to Spain's affinity for the Three Kings 

In Madrid I attended a large parade that ended at the Plaza de Cibeles. Although it was raining lightly throughout the parade, it did not deter the holiday revelers. My friend and I jumped up on a fence to have a better view of the festivities above the heads of thousands of parade watchers. When the magi, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar, finally arrived on a giant float, the crowds went crazy. The girl next to me screamed the name "Balthasar" at least 50 times to receive some sign of acknowledgment from her idol.

In schools, children typically write papers explaining who their favorite king is, but it seems that Balthasar currently has rock star status. The kings toss out candies that are quickly grabbed up by children and adults. You may be wondering why the kings did not arrive on camels. Several years ago, camels were removed from the parade in response to the pleas of animal rights activists. After the parade and ceremonious reading of a few children's letters to the kings, fireworks were shot off from the rooftop of Palacio de Cibeles, Madrid's city hall. The event literally ended with a bang!

Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar arrive to great fanfare

Kathryn, Karla and Anne watch the parade from their perch

On the eve of the Epiphany, children leave treats for the Three Kings and their camels, hoping they will visit their home. Every year, the kings make their journey by camel all the way from the Orient to delivery gifts to the children of Spain. How the kings actually enter the homes remains a mystery and explanations vary. In one family, the mother told her son that the kings have a magic key that allows them to enter all homes. However they enter, it's the end result that counts and in the morning of January 6th, children squeal with delight at the site of their gifts.

Christmas decorations include the arrival of the Three Kings

To celebrate the Epiphany, families eat a special cake purchased at a bakery, called roscón de reyes. This ring-shaped brioche decorated with sugar and dried fruit contains an object, typically a figurine, and a large broad bean. Whoever has the slice with the figurine is crowned king, and whoever receives the broad bean has the financial duty to either pay for the cake or buy the roscón next year.

Roscón de reyes

Long lines form at our favorite pastelería to purchase a roscón de reyes

However, the month of January is not complete for me unless I eat a galette des rois, the frangipane-filled cake, to celebrate the Epiphany in France. With a little research, we found a French pastry shop  in Madrid called Moulin Chocolat and purchased our galette. Now I feel closure to a wonderful holiday season in Spain.

My favorite Epiphany treat, the French galette des rois


Popular Posts