This blog post was originally posted on December 28, 2012 and was updated on November 9, 2017.
Christmas may have come and gone, but many kids here in Spain are still eagerly awaiting their presents. That’s because it is not Santa Claus who brings them gifts on Christmas Day.
The tradition here in Spain is that Los Reyes Magos, known as the Three Wise Men or the Three Kings in English, bring Spanish children their gifts on the Day of the Epiphany, January 6th. According to Christian tradition, this was the day that Melchior (known as Melchor in Spanish), Caspar (Gaspar), and Balthasar (Baltasar) came to visit the baby Jesus and brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Read on to learn more about the Spanish Christmas tradition of Los Reyes Magos.
Cabalgata de Reyes
Festivities officially start the day before La Adoración de los Reyes Magos. On January 5th, in towns and cities all around the country, Spanish families line the streets to get a glimpse of the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos, a reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings. These parades are truly a sight to behold! Amidst dancers, musicians, and puppeteers, the Kings ride on camels or elaborate floats and throw goodies, usually candy or sweets, down to the children.
Later that evening, kids leave out their shoes in a spot where the Kings are sure to see them. 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. The camels also receive dried grass or hay from the traditionalists, or milk and bread if those aren’t handy! The next morning, children are delighted to discover that los Reyes have nibbled the food or eaten it entirely. But most importantly, next to their shoes are the wrapped presents from los Reyes Magos, waiting to be ripped open!
Roscón de Reyes
Another important tradition after the gift-opening is the breakfast of Roscón de Reyes. It’s a delicious round cake with candied fruit on top. The fruit symbolizes the precious gems that adorned the Wise Men’s clothing. You can purchase a plain roscón or one with fresh nata (whipped cream), trufa (truffle cream) or cabello de ángel (candied spaghetti squash).
In addition, there will be two plastic-wrapped figurines inside the cake: a faba bean and a small king. 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. On the other hand, whoever finds the faba bean has to pay for the roscón! There are a number of pastry shops and bakeries in Madrid where you can try a Roscón de Reyes. Look for them in the weeks leading up to the celebration.
Although sightings of Santa Claus are becoming more common in recent years, historically La Adoración de los Reyes Magos is the most important Christmas tradition in Spain. If you are in Madrid on January 5th, you MUST add seeing the Cabalgata to your holiday to-do list. And be sure to buy a roscón to accompany your morning coffee or hot chocolate!
Looking for other activities to do during your stay in Madrid over Christmas? Join us on one of our food tours! We are open over the Christmas period and with expert guides, plenty of delicious food to try and some fascinating history to learn along the way—you won’t regret it! We hope to see you in Madrid this holiday season!