As Spain becomes more modern, old celebrations like Three Kings Day are observed less while others traditions remain popular. Here is our guide to how Spanish people celebrate the holidays.
The day of 6 January, otherwise known as Tres Reyes or Three Kings Day, has traditionally been a huge celebration in Spain. This is the day when the three kings arrived overnight in Bethlehem and also the most important day for the children as the kings — not Santa Claus — leave gifts for them.
The night of 5 January is punctuated by cavalcades featuring floats with horses (and occasionally camels) that depict the mounts the kings rode to reach the Christ child. Families also gather together to have a big feast on the Three Kings’ eve. For dessert, they have the Roscon de Reyes, a ring of cake that has hidden figures of the three kings or tiny toys inside. Children put out water and greenery for the camels before they go to bed and leave their shoes out for the three kings to fill with gifts.
Modern Three Kings Day celebration
But that was before. Nowadays the Three Kings Day, although still celebrated, have lost much of their significance to Christmas. Children from more traditional Spanish families still receive gifts on the day but just small gifts. Instead, their big gifts are given at Christmas. Spaniards say this is because the children go back to school on 7 January, and receiving their presents earlier means they have a longer time to play with them.
However, winter holiday celebrations differ by region. Some parts of the country are more traditionally-oriented, while others have been influenced by other European Christmas traditions.
Pre-Christmas festivities in Spain
Like the rest of the world, Christmas in Spain is being advertised earlier and earlier. The advertisements for Caldo de Navidad (Christmas stock) on TV are shown as early as mid-November. Christmas decorations on streets, in shops and in people’s homes further encourage the festive atmosphere. The supermarkets and department stores are open longer and sometimes, even on Sundays, just so people can have enough time to do their Christmas shopping.
The start of the Christmas holidays is 22 December. It is marked by school winter vacation, as well as by the announcement of the winners in the Christmas lottery. The Christmas lottery or El Gordo is one of the biggest lotteries in the planet. Then after, the Spaniards are ready for Christmas or Navidad.
As in many other countries, Christmas Eve or Nochebuena in Spain is characterised by festive dinners. The evening menu differs by region, but traditional dishes and drinks include: tapas, prawns with pink sauce, cava (sparkling wine), roast lamb, patatas fritas, turrón and sweet bread. After dinner, people tend to join La Misa del Galo (the midnight mass).
Christmas and New Year’s
On 25 December, Christmas day, children expect their gifts from Papa Noel. In general, this day is much calmer when compared to Nochebuena (the good night). People now start preparing for New Year’s Eve and the Three Kings Day celebration.
New Year’s Eve or Nochevieja is marked by fireworks, parties and street festivities. Plazas are full of people ready to welcome the New Year at midnight. Twelve rings of nearby church bells symbolise the coming twelve months. In Madrid, it is believed that each person should eat one grape for each of the 12 months to bring prosperity during the coming new year.