Los Reyes Magos: The Spanish Christmas Tradition

This blog post was originally posted on December 28, 2012 and was updated on November 20, 2020.

In Spain, Santa Claus isn’t the star of the show when the holiday season rolls around.

Instead, it’s the Three Wise Men—or los reyes magos—who take center stage during the winter holidays. They’re the ones who bring Spanish children their gifts the night before Three Kings Day on January 6.

While some Spanish families have also embraced the Santa tradition in recent years, it’s los reyes magos who are the most important. Read on to learn more about this beloved Spanish holiday tradition!

Los Reyes Magos (the three wise men) are an important Spanish Christmas tradition

Who are “los reyes magos”?

According to Christian tradition, three wise men came to visit the newborn baby Jesus shortly after his birth. Their names were Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, and they came with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Three Wise Men have been honored in various European countries since the Middle Ages. When the tradition of Santa Claus bringing gifts to children on Christmas Day became popular in some countries centuries ago, Spain followed suit, but used los reyes magos as the gift-bringers instead.

In recent years, some Spanish families have begun to embrace the Santa tradition as well. As a result, some children get gifts on both December 25 and January 6. However, Three Kings Day is easily the more important of the two, and the day when just about everyone in Spain will be in the gift-giving spirit.

Celebrating Three Kings Day in Spain today

January 5: The Three Kings Day parade

Festivities officially start the day before the actual feast day of los reyes magos. On January 5, parades take place throughout the country to celebrate the arrival of the kings. Spanish families line the streets of their hometown to get a glimpse of the cabalgata de los reyes magos, or Three Kings Day parade.

These parades are truly a sight to behold! Along with dancers, musicians, and puppeteers, the Kings ride on camels or elaborate floats. They throw goodies, usually candy or sweets, down to the children. Some adults even get in on the fun and will hold upside-down umbrellas to catch as much candy as possible!

Los Reyes Magos (the Three Kings)
Los Reyes Magos bring holiday cheer to all of Spain! Photo credit: Universidad de Navarra

January 6: The arrival of los reyes magos

Los reyes magos traditionally bring gifts for Spanish children during the night on January 5. Much like the traditional milk and cookies for Santa Claus and his reindeer, Spanish children often set out plates of food or sweets for los reyes magos. The kings’ camels also receive dried grass or hay from the traditionalists, or milk and bread if those aren’t handy!

When kids throughout Spain wake up on the morning of the 6th, they find gifts from the Three Kings ready to open. (But only if they’ve been good—just like Santa Claus, los reyes magos bring coal for those on the naughty list!)

Traditional food for Three Kings Day in Spain

Throughout the holiday season, Spanish families enjoy multiple feasts that last for hours. Three Kings Day is no different. After opening the gifts from los reyes magos, it’s time to enjoy an elaborate lunch comprised of multiple courses and plenty of post-meal chatter, known as sobremesa.

A typical Three Kings Day lunch in Spain will likely start with some appetizers such as cheese and cured meats. The main course can vary depending on where you are in the country, but expect something hearty and filling, usually meat or seafood based. Just be sure to save room for dessert: the almighty roscón.

Roscón de Reyes: the Three Kings Day cake

The crown jewel of the los reyes magos celebration is exactly that: a crown-shaped dessert decorated with candy “jewels.” This is the roscón de reyes, a sweet bread-like cake often filled with cream and topped with dried fruits.

The roscón de reyes is notoriously difficult to make at home and takes a long time. As a result, most people outsource theirs to the experts. Starting in the fall, bakeries throughout Spain see thousands of orders for roscones from locals eager to reserve theirs in time.

As for when to eat the roscón, that depends on who you ask. Some families dig into theirs as soon as they get home from the Three Kings Day parade on January 5. Others have it for breakfast on the morning of the 6th, and still others hold off until afternoon on Three Kings Day to have it for merienda, or the midday snack around 6 p.m.

Roscones can come in several different varieties, all of them delicious. Some are plain and come without any filling. Others contain fresh whipped cream, chocolate truffle cream, or even candied spaghetti squash (it’s better than it sounds!).

In addition, you’ll find two plastic-wrapped figurines inside the roscón: a dried fava bean and a small king-shaped figurine.

  • Whoever gets the slice of the cake with the small king is the “king” or “queen” of the banquet. As a result, this person will have good luck for the rest of the year. Many roscones come with a paper or cardboard crown for this person to wear.
  • On the other hand, whoever finds the fava bean has to pay for the roscón the next year!

If you happen to be in the Spanish capital around Three Kings Day, check out where to try the roscón de reyes in Madrid. Many bakeries and pastry shops will offer it, but these spots are the best of the best!

Slice of Spanish kings day cake, or roscón de reyes
A delicious slice of roscón de reyes filled with sweetened whipped cream.

READ MORE: Behind the Bite: Roscón de Reyes

Even if you can’t make it to Spain this year to celebrate los reyes magos, we here at Devour Tours wish you all a wonderful holiday season!

Bring the flavors of Spain into your home this holiday season with our new digital cookbook, Spanish Feasts from the Devour Tours Kitchen. (It makes a great gift, too!)

41 Comment

  1. Steve Hall says
    December 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Great overview. Thanks for sharing! Hope The Three Kings bring you everything you would wish for yourself

    Reply
    1. Kay Fabella says
      December 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks Steve! Happy Holidays from Madrid!

      Reply
    2. Chuy Rodriguez says
      January 6, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      You too Steve!!!! Happy holidays!
      -Chuy

      Reply
      1. jonny says
        January 6, 2020 at 4:05 pm

        happy holidays
        Best day ever

        Reply
        1. Devour Tours says
          January 7, 2020 at 10:51 am

          Happy holidays, Jonny! Hope you had a wonderful Three Kings Day!

          Reply
          1. Caylin Newbrey says
            January 6, 2021 at 9:23 pm

            Happy Holidays hope you got everything you wished for this year!!

          2. Devour Tours says
            January 11, 2021 at 9:11 am

            Thanks so much, Caylin! Happy holidays to you as well!

    3. cornelius henderson says
      December 11, 2017 at 10:08 pm

      thanks steve you sound like a real swell guy

      Reply
    4. Mariam says
      February 1, 2018 at 12:13 am

      Yo mis vacaciones favoritas son las navidades. Celebro la Navidad estando con mi familia

      Reply
      1. Katie Stearns says
        February 12, 2018 at 4:38 pm

        A nosotros también nos encantan las navidades!

        Reply
    5. jofasa says
      January 9, 2019 at 4:45 pm

      do you know what they arrived on

      Reply
  2. Molly says
    December 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    My favourite Roscon de Reyes is the Cream ‘Nata’ one. I can’t wait, just a few days to go til the Barcelona cabalgata.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Aloise says
      December 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm

      Mmm I know, I love the Cabalgata! But I think my favorite filling is trufa, yum!

      Reply
      1. jun says
        January 6, 2015 at 6:07 pm

        what animals did the three kings arrive with

        Reply
        1. Derek isolata says
          January 7, 2015 at 7:32 pm

          The elephant, camel, and a mule

          Reply
          1. katherine says
            December 15, 2015 at 11:51 am

            what is a mule

          2. International secret service says
            April 20, 2016 at 2:26 pm

            Good job sir! You really know your facts on Three Kings Day and its history!

        2. Maddie says
          January 23, 2019 at 2:29 pm

          elephant, camel, mule

          Reply
      2. Alyssa says
        January 6, 2016 at 2:02 am

        the three kings arrived by camel! Luv the website! <3

        Reply
  3. Ryan says
    January 6, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    i love spain rascons my favorite is rasberry

    Reply
    1. katherine says
      December 15, 2015 at 11:45 am

      That looks fun

      Reply
    2. katherine says
      December 15, 2015 at 11:46 am

      <3 Mmmmm

      Reply
  4. Cómo says
    December 21, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    The food looks great

    Reply
  5. Ayonna says
    January 5, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    that was good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  6. Allá says
    January 11, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    cool

    Reply
  7. jonmillr says
    May 21, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    I love to eat trufa its amazing…

    Reply
  8. Antjuan says
    November 14, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    what foods are you supposed to eat other than the cake

    Reply
  9. isaiah says
    November 29, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    the food lookes amazing i want it! the three kings are awesome

    Reply
  10. Erin says
    December 30, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    Why do the children leave out shoes? How did that tradition begin? I asked a friend of mine who is Spanish; she had no idea. 😉

    Reply
  11. Ted says
    January 10, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Th food looks fabulous

    Reply
  12. Maya Piotrowski says
    December 15, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    This is a really good article very informational because I am learning about the three kings at school.

    Reply
  13. Lolita Schum says
    April 1, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    Cuando mis hermanos y yo perdemos los dientes, los colocamos debajo de la almohada para que el hada de los dientes los tome, al igual que los niños que dejan fuera los zapatos.

    Reply
  14. Pliadisfoto says
    May 11, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Kaip idomu!

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      May 13, 2018 at 1:21 pm

      Ačiū!

      Reply
  15. kcuf says
    December 19, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    is this italian

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      December 20, 2018 at 7:12 am

      Spanish 🙂

      Reply
  16. December 26, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    […] 6th January is Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In western traditions, it’s the Feast of the Epiphany and the final day of the Christmas season. It’s largely ignored outside of religious communities. […]

    Reply
  17. amani says
    January 8, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    I love gifts!

    Reply
  18. Addison says
    January 8, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    Why did they give the gifts to Jesus?

    Reply
  19. dale says
    August 21, 2019 at 4:34 am

    Amazing! just what i needed for my Spanish assignment!

    Reply
  20. Smurf says
    December 19, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    Hola come esta? Spain anyone?

    Reply

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