What Happens In Spain On January 6Th?
- Víctormanuel Paz
In the first week of January, just as the rest of the Christmas-celebrating world is reluctantly getting back into their routines and probably kick-starting a healthy diet and fitness plan, Spanish children are waiting expectantly for the Three Wise Men to arrive.
After Christmas and New Year , the lucky Spanish still have another family day of celebration to come, in the form of the arrival of the Reyes Magos , the Wise Men from the East who followed a star and came bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus.
The 6 th of January is always a bank holiday in Spain, spinning out the festivities for an extra week. But why is the Epiphany holiday in Spain such a big deal and how is it celebrated? Read on to find out a bit about the history of the Reyes Magos day , and why Spanish children have to wait until the 6 th of January to get their Christmas presents.
- Ever wondered what the ’12 days of Christmas’ actually are, beyond just an excuse for a good sing-along? Officially, Christmas kicks off on the 25 th of December and carries on until the 6 th of January;
In the UK, the 6 th of January is generally a bit of a depressing day, as it’s the day you’re meant to take your Christmas decorations down, as leaving them up any longer is supposed to be bad luck. But in Spain, the Feast of the Epiphany or the Three Kings’ Day is a celebration of the adoration of the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men, also known as the Magi, or the Three Kings.
- Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar travelled to present baby Jesus with three symbolic gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh;
- They’re said to have ridden on a horse, a camel and an elephant;
- This feast is celebrated all over the Christian world, but it’s traditionally just marked by mass, although there are other Epiphany celebrations that go on;
In many Catholic countries, it’s also a bank holiday, but in most places, it isn’t associated with gift giving, despite the Three Wise Men’s gifts. In Spain, however, the fact that the Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus meant that, when the tradition of gifts being brought by Father Christmas began to spread in other countries, the Spanish custom of the gifts being brought by the Three Kings spread up as a kind of imitation of it, with more of a religious slant.
The celebrations of the arrival of the biblical wise men to Bethlehem kick off on the 5 th of January. Since the 19 th century, Spanish towns and cities have been putting on parades to mark the occasion.
There might be floats with effigies of each of the Three Wise Men in the parade, or they might be played by local dignitaries. Either way, these are big, colourful parades that make their way through the main streets of the town, throwing handfuls of sweets out over the crowds.
These are fun, light-hearted parades, in contrast to the sombre parades during Holy Week, or Semana Santa. Just like children waiting up for Father Christmas, Spanish children have to get to bed early after watching the parades, to make sure they don’t miss the Wise Men bearing gifts.
They leave their best pair of shoes, sparkling clean, outside their doors to be filled with gifts. Again, just like with Father Christmas, Spanish children write letters to the Three Wise Men before the big day and leave out snacks and drinks for their camels.
Naughty children might get sweet ‘coal’ in their shoes instead of gifts. In the past, this was the only day that Spanish children received presents, but these days many lucky kids get presents from Father Christmas as well.
The 6 th is another family day, with everyone coming together to watch the kids unwrapping presents, and there’s normally another big family meal. The day wouldn’t be complete without the traditional Roscón de Reyes , sweet circular bread with sugar and dried fruits on top.
- There’s a little model of a king or queen hidden inside, and whoever finds it gets to be king or queen for the day;
- There’s also normally a bean in there, and whoever gets that has to buy the sweet treat the following year;
What better way to kick off a new year than treating yourself to a holiday? There might not be any Three Wise Men coming to bring you presents, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself the ultimate gift and spend a few days in Spain right at the start of the year.
Skip the depressing, post-New Year slump when the nights are at their shortest and all the Christmas lights are being taken down and head south for some much-needed sunshine. See the Epiphany celebration in Spain for yourself, whether it’s in one of the country’s stunning big cities , on the sun-kissed south coast, or even in the Canary Islands, where it’s spring all year round.
Take the kids and let them enjoy the magic of this quintessentially Spanish experience, all whilst staying in one of the best family friendly hotels .
How is Epiphany celebrated in Spain?
Epiphany around the world – In Denmark , Epiphany was abolished as an official church festival in 1770. However, the previous evening, Twelfth Night, is celebrated in some homes by burning a special Twelfth Night candle with three wicks. When the candles thus go out, it symbolises the end of Christmas.
Only a few locations in Denmark still celebrate the evening with a procession where people in fancy dress and go from house to house. As Epiphany is not a public holiday in France , the traditions are instead observed on the first Sunday in January.
Since the 14th-century people in France have eaten a cake called La galette des Rois to celebrate Epiphany. According to the tradition, the cake must be divided so that each guest gets a slice, plus an extra slice called the part du Bon Dieu/ Vierge/ Pauvre (Good Lord / Virgin / Poor ) which is kept in reserve should any unexpected stranger turn up.
The cake is typically bought in a boulangerie and made of puff pastry with an almond filling. A charm is often hidden in the cake. The Lucky person that finds the charm then becomes the king or queen for the day.
As you travel east in Europe, water plays a more important in Epiphany celebrations with the throwing of a wooden cross into the sea to see who can recover it first a common tradition in Greece and Bulgaria. The Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany on January 19th, though the festival commemorates the baptism of Jesus (explaining the water festivities) by John the Baptist rather than the visit of the Magi.
- Jesus was baptised when he was about 30 years old, so Orthodox Epiphany has little to do with the Christmas story, though it still marks the end of the Christmas cycle;
- Italy has gone in quite a different direction with Epiphany;
It is the visit of a witch rather than kings which is the focus of festivities. Befana is an old soot-covered woman or witch who delivers presents to Italian children on the night before Epiphany. In Mexico , children receive presents on Epiphany rather than Christmas Day.
- In Spain, Epiphany is a more popular holiday than Christmas;
- Many thousands of people will join in traditional parades on the eve of Epiphany;
- Children write letters to the Magi asking for gifts which are left for them on January 6th;
Most shops are closed, but some stores may open and start their January sales early. Traditionally the ‘rebajas’ (the sales) start on January 7th.