30 Dec Get Your Family Ready for the Arrival of the Three Kings in Barcelona
Did you know Spanish families typically give gifts to children on January 6, not December 25 as many English-speaking expats might expect? The Nanny Line, Spain’s premiere international nanny agency has all of the background and tips for how your family can celebrate the Three Kings holiday (Día de los Tres Magos) in Barcelona. Our expert nannies have the best local knowledge to fill you in on all of Spain’s traditions for this special day.
The Religious History Behind the Three Kings
Because Spain is a predominantly Catholic country, The Three Kings celebrations derive from biblical traditions. January 6 is believed to be the date that the Wise Men (or magis) from the East, reached Bethlehem to worship the infant Jesus and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is why presents are exchanged on this day instead.
According to 7th Century tradition, there are three kings named Melchior (with a white beard), Gaspar (with a blonde or red-haired king) and Balthazar (black-skinned and usually the children’s favorite). Each one hales from a continent: Europe, Asia and Africa. Some medieval interpretations believe each king symbolizes a stage of man: wisdom, maturity and youth.
The Three Kings Parade in Barcelona (La Cabalgata)
In Barcelona, the three kings usually arrive by water at the Port of Barcelona. Barcelona’s mayor meets them and gives them bread and salt to symbolize hospitality. The mayor also gives them the key to the city, which is one of the greatest honours a guest can receive. What’s more, this is the magic key that gives the Kings access to all the homes in the city for one night, so they can let themselves in and leave their presents.
The parade in Barcelona leaves from Ciutadella Park at 6PM on January 5th. Here is a link to a map of the parade’s route and timing through Barcelona. The parade finishes around 9PM in front of the Magic Fountain by Mont Juïc. Included in the procession are dancers, musicians, floats, camels, magical vehicles and members of any community associations who wish to join. No doubt the highlight for little children will be collecting the candy the parade participants throw as they pass by. Locals advise claiming your spot along the parade route early so that your children have front-row seats! Our nannies remind you not to forget to bring a bag to hold all of the prized candy either.
The Three Kings and Friends Come to You
Gregori is a unique imaginary Barcelona character who accompanies the Three Kings on their parade through the city. Along with the other royal page Estel, he is the Kings’ most powerful assistant. He has very big eyes and a finely-tuned ear so he can see and hear everything children do throughout the year. The two pages tell the Kings about children’s behavior, so they know whether to bring the presents the children have asked for or coal, if they have been naughty. Many children write letters to the three kings, telling them what presents they would like them to bring. Some children give their letters to the Kings or their many helpers during the parade.
Legend says that the Three Kings go to each child’s house to drop off presents. Children in Spain typically leave some snacks for the Three Kings and some hay for their camels. Instead of hanging stockings, Spanish children leave their shoes out for the Three Kings to fill with presents.
Celebrating on the 12th Day of Christmas, The Epiphany
Spainards celebrate the Christmas holiday from December 24th until January 6th, the Epiphany (the 12 days of Christmas). On the morning of January 6, Spanish families celebrate with gift-giving and traditional family meals of meat-filled canelons, polverone cookies, turrón, and of course plenty of Cava.
The Roscón de Reyes
For dessert, families share a ring-shaped “King’s Cake” decorated with candied fruit symbolizing the jewels on the Three Kings’ clothing. The cake is filled with one of three different options: nata (whipped cream), trufa (truffle cream) or cabello de ángel (angel’s hair) which is similar to pumpkin jam.
Take care when taking a bite of this confection however. Spaniards also always hide two items somewhere in the cake: A fava bean and a king. The unlucky finder of the fava bean must pay for the Roscón. On the other hand, the person who finds the king is named King or Queen for the day. They are also promised good luck for the rest of the year.
You may want to shop early for your Roscón de Reyes. Barcelona’s most iconic bakery, Escribà, reportedly sells more than 3,000 of these kings cakes a day during the Christmas week. Also, remember that many businesses and shops close early on January 5th and will be closed on the 6th. Make sure to stock up on any groceries you may need ahead of time.
We hope that you and your children have fun celebrating Spain’s unique Three Kings Holiday in Barcelona. If you are planning to be in Madrid over Christmas, make sure to read our guide to a Madrileño Navidad. Don’t forget that the Nanny Line can help your family stay sane during the busy holiday season. You can count on The Nanny Line to help your family have the best possible time visiting or living in Barcelona, Madrid, or the Balearic Islands. If there is another service that we can provide to help make your family’s life or time in Spain better, let us know on Instagram or Facebook. We are here to care for YOU!