Updated: February 27, 2023Published: September 26, 2022
Did you know Spanish children enjoy “Día de Los Reyes Magos” more than Christmas?
Do you find it crazy? Some friends do! Unlike the United States and many more countries worldwide, in Spain, children expect to receive their Christmas gifts on “Reyes” (the abbreviation of the holiday).
Knowing this might be handy if you plan to spend the Holidays in Spain. On “Día de reyes” we have entertainment, food, and many more traditions.
I can honestly say that some of my best memories from when I was a little girl took place on January 6th. Keep reading to find out more about this great tradition!
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1. What is “Día de los Reyes Magos”?
“Día de Los Reyes” is a national holiday celebrating the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.
This holiday also known as Epiphany, the Three Wise Men, or the Three King’s Day, is held on January 6th and is mainly celebrated by the Catholic community.
What is the story of the Three Wise Men?
Okay…even if it pains me to say this, the real story has been tweaked over the centuries. How? The Bible says that after Jesus was born, some “magi” from the East came to visit. That’s it. The Bible doesn’t mention three men, names, or camels. Some say the church gave their respective characters, Melchoir, Balthazar, and Gaspar, some centuries later.
The story goes like this:
“1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him…When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”.
You can see that there are no specifications on how many, nor that they were riding camels. We know they brought gifts to Jesus, such as gold to recognize his position as king, frankincense to commemorate his divinity, and myrrh to acknowledge his mortality.
2. What do Spanish people do in “Día de Los Reyes Magos”?
We asked real Spaniards on the streets about how they celebrate “Día de los Reyes” and Christmas in general. This is what they had to say:
As I told you before, “Dia de Los Reyes Magos” is a huge deal for Spanish people. And, just like Christmas, we celebrate on the eve and the actual day. On January 5th, we have the “Cabalgata de Los Reyes Magos” or our famous “Three Wise Men Parades.” Most of the cities in Spain organize their parade with different floats, music, and of course, the “Los Reyes Magos,” who you will see riding camels.
When the parade is over, children return to their homes, leave some candy for the camels and fall asleep expecting their gifts. Sounds similar? It’s the same concept as receiving gifts from Santa Claus but with three magi.
It is so much alike that the same accidents happen. Our friend Monica, a 19-year-old student form Madrid, shared her anecdote with us:
At the age of 12, I discovered that the three wise men were my parents in the most traumatic way possible. It was two in the morning, and I got up in the middle of the night, thinking it was already dawn. However, when I went to the living room to see if the wise men had already left the long-awaited gifts, I saw my parents eating the sweets we had left for the Three Wise Men the night before. In my family, we always remember this anecdote to laugh.
On January 6th (the following day), kids wake up to see that the Three Wise men had left gifts. After tearing apart all the wrapping paper, bellies get hungry and move on to the kitchen for the traditional “Reyes” breakfast. We have “Roscón de Reyes” or Three King’s Cake and hot chocolate for breakfast. The “Roscón de Reyes” is a ring-shaped cake covered with candied fruit to symbolize the gems the Three Wisemen were supposed to have on their clothes.
Here is another anecdote from Yolanda, 46 year old mom from Madrid:
One of the anecdotes I remember with more affection was when my husband and I pretended to be the Three Wise Men to write a letter to our little son. That year, he was failing many of her school tests because he wasn’t studying. In the letter, we told him that even though he is a very good boy, he had to study more and make an effort. He didn’t fail any other tests for the rest of the year.
3. Where to celebrate el “Día de Los Reyes Magos” in Spain?
This is a tough one! You can spend an amazing “Dia de Los Reyes Magos” almost everywhere in Spain. But here are the most iconic parades.
Alcoy (Alicante, Valencian Community)
This is Spain’s oldest parade; the first was registered between 1885 and 1886. So this one has over a hundred years!!!
This parade lasts around 4 hours. Kids and families enjoy watching the Three Wise Men with their royal pages or “els negres” and their torch guys who light the way of the journey through a night of music. The most iconic part of this parade is the moment when the royal pages use their ladders to climb up children’s balconies and leave the gifts.
Madrid (Community of Madrid)
This is not the oldest but the most popular in Spain. The “Cabalgata de Reyes Magos” in Madrid is televised for the rest of the country and goes through the most emblematic street of the city. This year’s parade had 10 floats and over 240 royal pages! Including the floats with the Wise Men and the camels, of course.
If you ever want to see the “cabalgata” in Madrid, you must be there on time for a good spot. Especially if you are with children, that way, they will get the candy that is given by the pages.
This one is not the oldest or the most popular but is unique. Barcelona’s “Cabalgata de Reyes Magos” is not your usual parade. The Wise Men come by boat until the “Moll de la Fusta” (pier), where they meet with the mayor and receive the “magic key” to the city. After that, they move on with the parade through the city.
This one is not the oldest but the longest parade. The “Cabalagata de Reyes Magos” in Sevilla lasted around 6 hours. This year’s parade was done in 3 hours and a half. It entertained families with 33 floats with a combination of several children’s stories floats, the nativity, and the Three Wise Men.
4. What other countries celebrate el “Día de Los Reyes Magos”?
“El Día de Los Reyes Magos” is a religious tradition even if it has been tweaked over the years.
In the United States, cities like Miami, New York, and New Orleans organize parades for the Three King’s Day. Unlike Spain, they celebrate the holiday on the 6th and not a day before.
Around Europe, three countries celebrate the Three Wise Men. These are Bulgaria, Greece, and Portugal. The first two celebrate the Three Kings Day by getting in the cold January waters. In Portugal, they do something completely different- they smoke. Well, not all of the country. But a town called Vale de Salgueiro encourages people (including children) to celebrate the day with a smoke.
In Latin America, most countries celebrate the Three Kings Day, with Mexico and Puerto Rico hosting parades and “Roscón de Reyes” like Spain. The main difference would be that people from these countries celebrate it on the 6th, not the day before.
Now you know everything there is to know about “Dia de Los Reyes Magos” in Spain. For us, Christmas is to remember the birth of Jesus. But The Tree Kings Day is about celebrating the fact that God came into the world in the body of a baby boy. We recognize his statue as king, divinity, and human.
Jimena Bolívar is a seasoned travel writer with a unique passion for Spanish Food & Recipes. With a background in business and marketing, she brings a strategic and innovative approach to her writing, making her the perfect guide for those looking to truly experience the Authentic Spain. Jimena is also a Mother of 4, and is a huge fan of knitting her own clothes.