So here’s the thing, while most of the Western World is getting their presents for Christmas, Spaniards are not. We are different, yep. We recieve our presents from three very nice guys in January: The Three Magic Kings (or Wise Men)!
Where does the tradition come from
Even though we are not Christian per se, Christmas are and so are the Three Magic Kings. The story says that Three Magic Kings from the East were on a camel following a star that brought them to Bethlehem. Before entering the city they found Herod, who welcomed them into the city and asked the kings to give the location of the newborn, so that he could go and adore him too. Plot Twist: he wanted to kill him. Once the Three Magic Kings found the newborn (Jesus), they gifted him with three presents. Melchor gave him Frankincense, Gaspar brought gold and Baltasar myrrh. Once they left and head out of the city, an angel appeared in front of them and told them about the real intentions of Herod. They avoided him and that’s where the story ends.
The Three Magic Kings today
Today, the three magic kings are associated with presents. They are the ones that the night of January the 5th to the 6th go house by house to leave whatever the children wanted. Children must write a letter that many of the official “Pages” will collect the weeks before the special date. Then, on the night before the presents are delivered, thousands of kids (and adults, myself included) gather in the city to see the kings arrive. In Barcelona, they arrive to the port, and from there, they tour the city in a 4h long parade.
The first car is, of course the star that the kings keep on following. Then, each one of the kings arrive with a court from the country they come from. Melchor and Gaspar both came from the Mediterranean while Baltasar came from Africa, so each one of them is represented by their own parade. And all of them trow caramels to the public. It is also a tradition to compete to see how many caramels you can get! It is a beautiful experience. There is nothing more magical than seeing all the little boys in girls in awe as they see the kings pass. The pictures will say more than I can!
Such a magical night
When all children come back home, they have to go to sleep early, otherwise the kings will not pass. Also, because the kings are very tired after such a long night, it is a tradition to leave them a small glass of sweet liquor (often Anis) and a little treat to go with it. Because we all love camels, it is also common to leave them a glass of milk or water! In some families, people leave a shoe by the door. The reason behind it is not completely known although some say that is just to tell the kings the number of people living there. In the case of toddles, this is the night they are supposed to give up their pacifier. It for the kings to take.
Time for presents
When people get up in the morning, voilà! presents are there! But only if you have been good, otherwise you will only get charcoal. Many years ago, it was the real deal, today it is sweet charcoal, made out of sugar and egg whites. It comes in all shapes and colours and it is widely popular. I do not know if this is popular outside of Catalonia, you know we have some special traditions, but some kids can receive a poop. Yes, made out of Marzipan, but a poop nevertheless. It can even be presented in a mini toilet! Some say it’s delicious, I cannot tell from experience!
And a special treat
Even though there are diferent versions depending on where in Spain you are, it is common to eat a traditional tortel. In Catalonia, we fill it with marzipan or cream and add two small figures: a king and a broad bean. When the family gathers and start eating the dessert (the tortel), the person that ends up with the king is crowned as king for a day, while whomever gets the bean will have to pay. It is a funny tradition and a beautiful way to end the holidays and start counting until the following Christmas!
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