Christmas in Spain: Epiphany
The Spanish refer to Epiphany as Día de los Tres Reyes, or “Three Kings Day.” In the weeks preceding Three Kings Day, children write letters to the Wise Men, or Magi, letting them know about the gift they would like to receive (see also Children’s Letters). In the old days families would gather at the edge of town hoping to offer their children a glimpse of the Magi on their journey. Somehow, the townsfolk never guessed correctly which road the Wise Men would take. Upon returning to town, however, the disappointed children often discovered that the Wise Men had arrived by another route and were waiting for them at the Nativity scene in the town’s central plaza.
Nowadays, many Spanish cities hold elaborate parades on Epiphany Eve to welcome the Three Kings as they pass through town on their way to Bethlehem. Parents take their children to these parades so that the little ones can see the splendidly robed Magi riding high atop an elaborate float. The Kings wave kindly to the crowd and, more importantly, toss sweets to the children.
Upon returning home from excursions such as these, children leave their shoes in a place where the Wise Men are sure to find them, often on a balcony, just outside the front door, or by the fireplace. They usually leave a bit of straw for the Magi’s camels as well. In the morning they find the shoes filled with trinkets and sweets. One old tradition recommended that parents brush their children’s cheeks with coal or ashes as they slept on Epiphany Eve. When the children discovered the mark in the morning, the parents told them it meant that Balthasar, the black king, had stooped down to kiss them while they were asleep.
The Three Kings only bring presents to children. In recent years Santa Claus has become increasingly popular in Spain, and so has the custom of adults exchanging Christmas presents with one another.