Throughout Spain the 6th of January (Epiphany) is known as El Día de Reyes or Kings’ Day and it is the day when Spanish children traditionally receive their Christmas gifts from the three magic kings. Historically, these kings represent the “three wise men” who, in the Christian story of the Nativity, followed the star to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newly born Christ child bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Although nowadays some Spanish children receive their presents on Christmas Day, courtesy of Father Christmas, Kings’ Day remains an important Spanish festival and in towns and villages across the country the three magic kings; Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar parade through the streets on the evening of the 5th of January with much ceremony and celebration, throwing sweets and gifts to the thousands of children waiting to greet them. On the same night, children across Spain put out refreshments for the kings and their camels hoping that in the morning they will wake to find the gifts, requested in their letters, and not the lumps of coal reserved for naughty children!
On Kings’ Day it is also traditional for Spanish families to eat a “Roscón de Reyes”, a large round pastry topped with sugar and glace fruits and often filled with cream. This tradition goes way back to Roman times when during the celebrations held after the Winter solstice, round cakes filled with dates, honey and figs were eaten. In each cake the Romans hid a dry bean and the person who found it was treated like a king for the day. This particular custom continues today as each “Roscón de Reyes” contains a small figurine that represents good luck for the coming year for the person who finds it.