Why the Three Kings Festival

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Three Kings Festival
THREE KINGS: Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior, the ‘Reyes Magos’, will visit Spanish homes on the night of January 5. Photo: Shutterstock

Celebrated throughout Spain over two days, January 5th and 6th, the Three Kings Festival leaves many visitors wondering why the festivities take place. Just what does the festival stand for?

The Three Kings Festival or Dia de los Reyes, has its origins in the church, and specifically in Spain the Catholic Church. According to religious teachings the dates coincide with the arrival of the three kings following the birth of the baby Jesus.

The festival celebrates and re-enacts the arrival of the kings, Melchior from Arabia, Caspar from the Orient and Balthazar from Africa. The bible does however not specify the number of Kings or their origin but rather that magi from the east and from different backgrounds and social standing came to pay their respects to the new born king.

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It is not known exactly how it came to be that there were three kings or where they came from suffice to say it is accepted teaching in many of the churches around the world.

In terms of the festival what is probably most significant is that they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That idea of gifts continues to run through the festival with tradition being to shower those who come to see the procession, with gifts (sweets).

Each procession has its own array of floats nut all are followed by the three kings and their helpers, whose job it is to throw sweets to the waiting crowds. This is a fun festival enjoyed as much by the adults as it is by the children, with all clamouring to collect sweets.


A word of caution, if you aren’t paying attention the sweets can hurt if the hit you in the wrong place.

For Spaniards the three kings or wise men is much the same as Santa Claus at Christmas, so on the evening of the 5th children are supposed to leave a cleaned pair of shoes outside their doors for the nocturnal visitors to fill with gifts. Although it is changing a 2015 survey by Spanish toymakers association AEFJ showed that the colourful kings, or Magis as they’re sometimes called, are far more popular than Papa Noel amongst Spanish children.

In the survey 68% said they preferred receiving presents from the wise men, with only 27% rooting for Father Christmas. Just as with Santa, children write letters to the kings and are encouraged to leave snacks for their exhausted camels before going to bed on the 5th. Good kids get presents and bad kids are supposed to receive a lump of coal much the same as with


The following day is also important for it is on January 6th that children unwrap their presents. A family affair in which traditional cake (Roscon de Reyes) is eaten and in which a little king is always hidden. That entitles the finder to be treated like a king for the day whereas the person who finds the hidden bean has to do the king’s bidding.

The Three Kings Festival is very much a family oriented affair taking place early in the evening so that it can be enjoyed by everyone, irrespective of their age. Although many will be scaled down this year because of the pandemic, this is an event not to be missed.


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