January 6th is regarded as the date when the three kings (Melchior, Gazpar and Baltasar) brought gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem from the East. The date is observed in many countries (it is known as “little Christmas” in Ireland). But nowhere is it celebrated as much as in Spain where traditionally it is a more important festival than Christmas Day, especially for children.
On the morning of the 5th January, there is the “Arrastre de Latas” or dragging of the cans when the children drag tin cans through the streets to banish the “giant of Botafuegos” who tries to stop the Three Kings’ procession by covering the sky in cloud, obscuring the holy star which guides the Kings to their destination. Another theory is that the sound of the cans is to wake up the kings from their slumber!
The kings arrive on the eve of 6th January as dusk falls. They are lavishly costumed and arrive to process through the town or village, often on horseback, or in Malaga on camel (in Madrid the kings are more modern and arrive by train!). The procession represents the journey of the Three Kings from the East to Bethlehem.
The kings proceed through the village or town distributing small gifts and sweets to the children watching. The sweets are thrown out into the crowds and it is not unusual to see little ones with upturned umbrellas to maximise their haul of goodies!
Traditionally on the night of the 5th children are encouraged to leave their shoes out for presents to be put into them but increasingly the practice is for the presents to be left under the Christmas tree. Children who have not been good and do not deserve presents receive coal (although this is often made of candy!).
Another essential part of the Three King’s Day is the roscon de reyes or king’s cake. The ring shaped pastry is decorated to look like a crown, topped with glazed fruits like jewels. Buried inside it is a toy, often a plastic baby intended to represent Jesus. The person who finds it is said to have luck for the year.
What are your plans for los Reyes!?