Once the end-of-the-year parties are over and the New Year begins, in Spain, the children are still waiting for the most important day of the holiday season. Every year, Three Kings’ Day is celebrated on January 6th.
The tradition says that the three kings (also known as the three wise men) had a mission to go to Bethlehem. They followed a star that showed them the way to see baby Jesus, who had just been born. Upon arriving, these three kings offered three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh.
For this reason, every year, when Christmas approaches, all the children begin to write letters to one of the kings (or to all three): Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar.
In these letters, the children tell the kings how well they behaved during the year and ask for the gifts they would like to receive on January 6th. In theory, the better the children behaved, the better their gifts will be. But all children know that if they misbehaved, they run the risk of receiving a piece of coal instead!
Each year, the three kings travel on camel from the East to visit all the children. When they arrive in Spain, several days after New Year’s Eve, they go to each of the villages to listen to the children’s requests and collect their letters. On the night of January 5th, after having seen the three kings parade through the city, the children run home to clean their shoes and place them in a good spot for the kings to see them. That way, the three kings will know who to leave each gift for.
Since the three kings travel such a long distance and have a lot of work to do during the 5th and 6th of January, families traditionally leave water, turrón (a typical Christmas nougat), and milk out for the three kings and their camels to eat and drink.
On the morning of January 6th, Three Kings’ Day, children get up early and are more nervous and excited than usual. They run to the place where they left their shoes to see what gifts they have received from the three kings of Orient. They happily discover that there is no water or milk left and the nougat has been eaten, a sign that the three kings have recovered their strength to return home.
Breakfast is a special occasion on January 6th with the Three Kings’ Cake ( Roscón de Reyes) the centre of attention. This is a sweet bread that is adorned with dried fruits and sugar. Inside, bakers have hidden a small prize wrapped in paper as well as a bean.
The one who finds the lucky prize is supposed to be King or Queen for the day (a gold paper crown is often provided with the cake) while he who ends up with the unlucky bean is expected to pay for next years Kings’ Cake – and considering that some of these cakes go for about 20 times the price of a loaf of regular, unsweetened bread (if you buy at a bakery instead of the supermarket), that could be an unhappy lot.
So there you have it and hopefully you may learned a little bit more of the fabulous Spanish Tradition of the Three Kings, enjoy!