Celebrations And Holidays - Other

The three Kings Festival in Spain

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The Festival of the Three Kings - Los Reyes Magos - is the most important festival of the year in Spain. It's a Catholic country, and while Christmas Eve - NocheBuena - is a time for attending mass and enjoying a celebration meal with the family, Three Kings is the big one for Spanish children and parents alike.

On 5 January, the proceedings begin with a procession of the Kings - Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior. This happens everywhere, from the smallest villages to the largest cities, although obviously the parades in cities such as Seville and Barcelona are much bigger, drawing tourists from all over Europe.

The procession snakes through the streets, and, depending on the size of the location, it can be just the Three Kings with attendant dancers, followed by a car playing appropriate music, or a fantastic parade with any number of performers and musicians. As the Kings process to the local church for the service at the end of the parade, sweets are thrown into the crowd.

Well-organised Spanish families take along tote bags, or umbrellas which they upturn to catch the sweets.  In Seville, around 9,000 kilos of 'caramelos' are distributed each year. The Spanish love their fiestas, and take part with gusto, so members of the parade will run up to spectators and stuff their pockets with sweets. Both children and adults benefit from the great giveaway.

After the procession and the church service, the families make their way home for a celebration meal. In many small villages, there are presents for the children from the Kings. When the children get ready for bed, they polish their shoes and leave them on the doorstep so the Kings know how many children are in the house. The shoes are  filled with sweets, and presents are left for the children.

Just like children who believe in Santa Claus, Spanish children write letters to their favourite King, and promise that they've been good through the year. If they haven't, they don't get presents - the Kings leave lumps of coal. This is just a threat that parents use - nobody has ever heard of a Spanish child waking up to coal on January 6. And it's traditional to leave food and water for the Kings and the camels who carry them.

Breakfast on Epiphany - January 6 - is a piece of roscon - spiced and iced fruit bread with trinkets or coins inside. Whoever finds the gifts is guaranteed to have good luck for the coming year. The Three Kings have not finished their tasks, however. During the day, they travel around local hospitals and children's homes, distributing gifts to sick children and orphans.

While the Three Kings Festival has many parallels with the traditions of Santa Claus, it is more focused on the religious aspect. Although Spanish children drop hints about the gifts they'd like to receive, Three Kings is much less commercialised than Christmas in the UK and North America. On 7 January, it's back to school or work, and the Three Kings and their camels can enjoy a well-earned rest.

More about this author: Sandra Piddock

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