I am used to New Year being the end of the Christmas season. If you haven’t been able to book the day off work, 2 January is back to “business as usual”; but I was pleased to find that here is Spain “Christmas” lasts a whole extra week! Why? The Festivo de los Reyes Magos (a.k.a the 3 kings/3 wise men).
Most likely you’ve heard the expression, and the song, the 12 days of Christmas; but, like me, you’ve probably never given it much thought unless you are well versed in Christianity and the various religious festivals throughout the year. Spain is known for having LOTS of “festivos” (public holidays) the majority of which are due to the history of Catholicism here; well, Día de Reyes is one of them. The 6th of January, 12 days after Christmas, is when the 3 Kings arrived to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem; so Día de Reyes (known as just “Reyes”) coincides with Epiphany in the Christian calendar and if the official end of the Advent season (so it is bad luck to keep your Xmas decorations up after this date – take note!!).
History/religion behind the holiday aside, the main thing worth noting is that to many Spaniards Dia de Reyes is more significant than Christmas. You see, it’s the 3 kings that bring the kids their pressies – not Santa!
These days Santa is, of course, known and recognised from all the foreign TV and other media; but if he brings stuff of Christmas it’s just stocking fillers for kids. Generally families spend the day together for Reyes and that is when they exchange gifts – when I asked my friends what they got for Christmas, time and again the response was “in my family we give gifts on Reyes”. Christmas is still “celebrated” but it is pretty much just a family dinner on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) or lunch on Navidad (Christmas Day); it isnt a massive deal like it is in the UK – I even had friends who were planning to go to a restaurant on Christmas because they wanted to just have a lazy day and not have to cook.
A few things to know about Reyes
- Everyone knows the names of each of the 3 Kings (Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar) and what they look like
- Each child has “his”/”her” king that they write to and who brings their presents
- Kids need to leave out 3 bananas on Noche de Reyes (the night of 5 January) for the 3 camels (like leaving a carrot for Rudolf!)
- Noche de Reyes is a big night. Each town/city generally has a parade “La Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos” with floats. The people on the floats throw sweets into the crowd, and the final 3 to arrive will each bear one of the 3 Kings.
- After the Cabalgata the kids go straight home to bed. The quicker they go to sleep, the quicker their King can come with their presents!
My first Reyes
So what did I get up to for my first Noche and Día de Reyes in Spain? I went to the Cabalgata of course!
I was really impressed with the floats and at the end of the parade the Kings gave their speeches (one totally in Valenciano and I still understood it – awesome!), then there was a fireworks display – I went live on Facebook for the fireworks so you can watch them here, and these are my pics from the parade.
Día de Reyes is usually spent with family. Obviously I was not heading back to freezing London to spend the day with my real family (let’s just take a moment to laugh at the ludicrousness of that idea. I love you guys, but… no!). When you move far from home your friends are like your adopted family, so I spent the day at my friend’s house. There were 3 of us “non-native Valencianas”, and we had lunch the spent the afternoon on the sofa under blankies chatting and watching TV. Perfect.
Sadly the Reyes didn’t bring me any presents, but I don’t mind. The first Sunday after Reyes is when the 50% off sales start! 😉😉