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Stories About Spain

Three Kings Day in Spain

Written by: Don Harris

One of the three kings talking to childrenI want to share with you a favorite essay of mine from a few years back, describing one of the most delightful celebrations in Spain, El Día de los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day. It is all about the joy of children as they join the whole community to celebrate the coming of the Magi. Next year you may want to bring this tradition to your home!

Happy New Year! Every January 5th, thousands of excited children and their parents gather along streets of Spain to greet the arrival of the Three Kings. In the evening, the three kings process through the towns on horseback, camels or even on flat bed trucks pulled by tractors! The Wise Men - one of whom is traditionally a Moor - scatter candy into the excited crowd of children. In a few towns, they may include small gifts as well.

After the parade, before the children are tucked in bed, they leave three items at the door: a dish of water and hay for the camels; turrón and perhaps a glass of wine or sherry for the Kings; and a pair of shoes in which they hope the Wise Men will leave gifts.

The next morning the children will discover their gifts, and for breakfast, many will enjoy a piece of Roscón de Reyes - a sweet bread covered with candied fruit. Within it is hidden a prize, usually a small coin or a ring. Whoever finds it is King for the Day. After dinner late in the afternoon, the family will visit the homes of members of their extended family - grandparents, aunts and uncles or a favorite cousin to see what the Kings had left them. It is an all-day evolution.

Ruth and I find that this time right after Christmas is a nice time to visit Spain. Leaving the throbbing marketplace of America and walking the cobblestone streets of Spain's delightful traditional towns is balm for the soul. Christmas festivities in Spain span almost two weeks: Christmas Day is but the beginning of twelve days of family celebrations that climax with the arrival in Bethlehem of the Three Kings on January 6th.
three kings day procession
We find that dropping in on local celebrations of Three Kings Day is particularly appealing. Three celebrations were particularly memorable: Guadalupe, Santiago de Compostela and Trujillo.

The village surrounding the Monastery of Guadalupe is nestled deep in the mountains of the same name. The town was a particular favorite of Ferdinand and Isabella - in fact it was there that they received Columbus when he returned from his first voyage bringing many exotic new foods such as peppers, tomatoes and chocolate.

The year that we visited Guadalupe the weather was a little raw: the wind and mist were blowing in from the mountains. Nevertheless, the weather did not dampen the spirit of the townspeople. From the steps under the 14thC Mudejar facade of the monastery, the mayor read the names of all of the children who had been born into their community during the previous year. As each child's name was announced, the parents brought their baby forward up the steps where the infant was blessed by the priest and given a little gift from the town.

Then from the distance, we could hear the rhythm of drums that the local young men were beating heralding the arrival of the Three Kings. Down a side street they came on flat-beds pulled by John Deere tractors and slowly wended their way into the Plaza Mayor. For us adult literalists a tractor has little resemblance to a camel or a horse, but that did not faze the delighted children as they scrambled for the candy, which was liberally sown.

Another year we were in one of our favorite places, the pilgrimage town of Santiago de Compostela, along with two of our sons, Jonathan and Christopher. I remember the four of us heading for the Three Kings parade. It was dusk and we were walking in the mist across the Plaza de Obraidoiro. From the direction of the cathedral on our left, which was shrouded with fog, I could hear the haunting notes of a jazz saxophone played by a young pilgrim whose figure I could barely make out in the archway.

The ancient stone arcades of the pilgrimage town were alive with hundreds of excited children crowding the curbs to get a better look at the Magi, who, this time were riding horses. The tractors were there too, groaning with more wrapped candies than I had ever seen in one place! So much life! So much joy! To think that children have been crowding these curbs for centuries!

Our favorite Tres Reyes celebration of all took place in the jewel of a village named Trujillo, in Extremadura, western Spain. It has been such a quiet town for so long, that the Trujillo brothers left for the New World hundreds of years ago in search of excitement and adventure.

The brothers eventually conquered Peru, and there is a notable bronze statue of Francisco Pizarro commemorating this event in the in the beautiful Plaza Mayor. The cobble-stoned area is vast - big enough to hold a gathering of the entire village, which is exactly what happens each year when the town gathers to await the arrival of the Tres Reyes.
the three kings riding on a parade float
When we arrived in Trujillo on the evening of the procession, we visited a living creche located in one corner of the Plaza: A twelve-year-old boy sporting a cotton batten beard represented St Joseph. At his side was Mary, a lovely ten-year-old girl, who was bending over the manger tending a plaster Christ Child. Some of the other boys surrounded the manger, clad in shepherd bathrobes. Intermingled were their suitably angelic little sisters who completed the tableau. It was so disarming - and refreshing.

A clatter of hoofs echoing off the cobblestones indicated the pending arrival of the Three Kings -- three young fathers riding horses from their farms. Literally, the whole village had gathered in the plaza to greet them: young parents with babes in arms, grandmothers peering proudly into baby carriages delivering a couple of caramelos (hard candies) to their delighted grandchildren; and lots of excited kids circling about the plaza. Eventually they migrated to the side street where the Three Kings had settled to greet the children personally and to give them presents.

What made these three occasions so memorable? Was it because there was no commercial agenda, and its execution was amateur? That is part of it. Was it because the neighbors get together to put on something for the children of their town? That too. Most of all what is memorable is the unbridled joy of little children.

I hope you experienced such joy during the holidays. Certainly we did with our two 3-year old grandchildren exhibiting such unabashed pleasure as they unwrapped even the most insignificant (to us) present. Or our 5 year old grandson, so excited about his foos-ball table. What a respite from the world-weary world in which we live.

Tu amigo,


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"I never heard of the El Dia de los Reyes Magos before. What a great article and tradition. Gracias!"
January 2016

"Yes I think it's a great tradition. I love to watch the little children respond as the 3 Kings arrive. I remember in Trujillo they stopped in the middle of the Plaza Mayor and were immediately surrounded by happy children!"

"Thank you for your wonderful description of Three King's Day. While living in Madrid with my family in the 50's, I remember the Three Kings seated on their thrones behind the Galerías Preciados store, receiving the children and their requests. It is a wonderful tradition."
January 2016

"I see you are in Massachusetts now. As a child I grew up in Belmont. But nice as it is there is no comparison to to the warmth and welcoming nature of the traditional Spanish culture. Do you ever get back there?"

"It is a beautiful story you have told us and it is exactly how it has been for century in Spain, the love for tradition and how to take care of the children on that night. Thank You very much"
January 2016

"Yes, Marie, it's another example of how all embracing is the Spanish culture to its children. They are truly cherished, and that tie remains all the rest of their lives."

"Lovely images are evoked in this article and bring back many wonderful memories of the years our family lived near Málaga, in the seaside town of Fuengirola. Thank you for sharing your perspective on Reyes and making my recollections come alive once again."
January 2016

"Dear Dianna, I see that you love and live in a lovely town Fuengirola and you appreciate these little traditional acts which reinforce the strength of tradition it is really a treat each January to be amongst the happy children and the generous Kings. Abrazos"

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Reflexiones en Español

Read in English
El Día de Reyes en España

One of the three kings talking to childrenFeliz año nuevo, amigos míos,

Pasado Enero, miles de niños entusiasmados y sus padres se reunen en las calles de España para recibir a los Reyes Magos. ¡Por la tarde, los reyes se pasean por los pueblos y ciudades a caballo, camello o incluso en bases de camión tiradas por tractores! Los tres Reyes Magos – uno de los cuales es tradicionalmente moro – reparten caramelos entre el gentío de niños ilusionados. En unos cuantos pueblos, pueden también incluir pequeños regalos.

Después de la cabalgata, antes que los niños se van a la cama, dejan tres cosas en la puerta: un plato con agua y paja para los camellos; turrón y tal vez un vaso de vino o jerez para los Reyes; y un par de zapatos en los que esperan que los reyes les dejen regalos.

La mañana siguiente los niños descubren sus regales, y para desayunar, muchos disfrutan un trozo de Roscón de Reyes – un pan dulce cubierto de fruta caramelizada y huevos duros. Dentro se esconde un premio – a menudo una monedita o un anillo. El que lo encuentra es Rey por un Día. Después de la cena, a media tarde, la familia visita a los otros parientes – abuelos, tíos y tías o un primo favorito – para ver lo que les han traído los reyes. Es un proceso que dura todo el día.

Ruth y yo pensamos que esta temporada justo después de Navidad es un momento muy agradable para visitar España. Dejar el palpitante mundo comercial de América y pasearse por las preciosas calles empedradas de España es un bálsamo para el alma. Las fiestas de Navidad en España se alargan durante casi dos semanas: las fiestas de Navidad no son más que el comienzo de doce días de celebraciones familiares que culminan en la llegada de los Reyes Magos a Belén el 6 de enero.
three kings day procession
Nos parece que es especialmente atractivo el pasarse por celebraciones locales el día de reyes. Hay tres que nos resultaron especialmente memorables: Las de Guadalupe, Santiago de Compostela y Trujillo.

El pueblo que rodea el Monasterio de Guadalupe se halla cobijado en las montañas del mismo nombre. Este pueblo gozaba de la predilección personal de Fernando e Isabel; de hecho, aquí fue donde recibieron a Colón cuando volvió de su primer viaje trayendo muchos nuevos y exóticos alimentos como los pimientos, los tomates y el chocolate.

El año que visitamos Guadalupe el tiempo estaba un poco encrespado: corría el viento y la neblina que venía de las montañas. Pero el tiempo no arredró el espíritu de los habitantes. Desde los escalones de la fachada mudéjar del S. XIV del monasterio, el alcalde leyó los nombres de todos los niños que habían nacido en su comunidad durante el año anterior. Según se anunciaba el nombre de cada niño, los padres traían al bebé al frente, arriba de los escalones, y allí el cura bendecía al niño y se le daba un regalito de la ciudad.

Entonces desde la distancia pudimos oír el ritmo de los tambores que los jóvenes del pueblo estaban tocando, anunciando la llegada de los Reyes Magos. Bajando por una calle adyacente, venían sobre bases de camiones tirados por tractores John Deere y lentamente recorrían su camino hasta la Plaza Mayor. Para nosotros, adultos literales, un tractor se parece poco a un camello o a un caballo, pero eso no tuvo importancia para los niños que encantados recogían los caramelos con los que les rociaban abundantemente.

Otro año estábamos en uno de nuestros lugares favoritos, la ciudad de peregrinaje de Santiago de Compostela, con dos de nuestros hijos, Jonathan y Christopher. Me acuerdo de cuando íbamos camino de la cabalgata de los Reyes Magos. Estaba anocheciendo e íbamos paseando por la neblina, cruzando la Plaza del Obradoiro. De la dirección de la catedral a nuestra izquierda, que estaba empanada por la niebla, podía oír las cautivadoras notas de un saxofón de jazz tocado por un joven peregrino cuya figura casi no podía distinguir bajo los arcos.

Los viejos arcos de piedra de la ciudad de peregrinación reverberaban con cientos de niños entusiasmados que se amontonaban en las aceras para ver mejor a los magos, que en esta ocasión montaban a caballo. ¡También allí estaban los tractores, ronroneando con más caramelos de los que nunca he visto juntos! ¡Tanta vida! ¡Tanta alegría! !Y pensar que ha habido niños llenando estos bordillos durante siglos!

Nuestra celebración favorita de los Tres Reyes entre todas se llevó a cabo en la joya de un pueblo de nombre Trujillo, en Extremadura, la parte Oeste de España. Ha sido un pueblo tan tranquilo durante tanto tiempo que los hermanos de Trujillo se fueron al Nuevo Mundo hace cientos de años buscando emociones y aventuras.

Los hermanos con el tiempo conquistaron Perú, y hay una prominente estatua de bronce de Francisco Pizarro conmemorando este evento en la preciosa Plaza Mayor. La zona de empedrado es grande; lo suficiente para reunir al pueblo entero, que es exactamente lo que ocurre cada año cuando el pueblo se reúne para esperar la llegada de los Tres Reyes.
the three kings riding on a parade float
Cuando llegamos a Trujillo la tarde de la cabalgata, visitamos un belén viviente situado en una esquina de la plaza: un niño de doce años luciendo una barba de algodón representaba a San José. A su lado estaba María, una preciosa niña de diez años que se inclinaba sobre el pesebre cuidando a un niño Jesús de plástico. Algunos de los otros niños rodeaban el pesebre, vestidos de pastorcillo a base de albornoces. Mezclados con ellos estaban sus adecuadamente angélicas hermanitas que completaban el cuadro. Era tan impactante… y tan refrescante.

Un tañido de herraduras que resonaba en el empedrado indicó la próxima llegada de los Reyes: tres padres jóvenes que montaban caballos de sus granjas. Literalmente, el pueblo entero se había reunido en la plaza para recibirles: padres jóvenes con niños en sus brazos, abuelas inclinándose ruidosamente sobre sillitas de bebé dándoles un par de caramelos a sus extasiados nietos, y muchos niños entusiasmados corriendo por la plaza. Al poco se concentraron en el lateral donde los Reyes Magos se habían parado a saludar a los niños personalmente y darles regalos.

¿Qué hizo estas tres ocasiones tan memorables? ¿Fue que no había intenciones comerciales, y se hacían de forma amateur? Eso era una parte. ¿Fue porque los vecinos se unían para crear algo para los niños de su pueblo? Eso también. Más que nada, lo que es digno de recordar es la alegría desenfrenada de los pequeños.

Espero que hayas disfrutado de una alegría así durante las fiestas. Nosotros sin duda lo hicimos con nuestros dos nietos de tres años, que disfrutaban abiertamente al abrir incluso el regalo más insignificante (para nosotros). Qué descanso de este mundo tan cargado en el que vivimos.

Tu amigo,


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