The Tradition of Three Wise Men and their Gifts
Happy New Year, everyone!
We are surely all very relieved to have left 2020 behind and to start a brand new chapter, hopefully full of more happiness and good moments. While in the rest of the world, the holiday season is already over, in Spain, there is still a very important date in the calendar after NY's.
Every 5th of January, at night, both children and adults, go to sleep dreaming of the presents The Three Wise Men will leave for them the next morning. They all hope to find every single gift that was included in all those letters carefully addressed to Melchior (from Persia), Caspar (from India) and Balthazar (from Arabia). Each of us have a favorite King and our letter is therefore addressed to one of them.
But what do we know about this Spanish tradition?
The origins of the legend of The Three Wise Men
We know that these three characters are mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew but they were not referred to as kings or considered to be three. It's only stated that some magi from the Far East, guided by a star, arrived to worship the newly born King of the Jews. Following the star they found him in Bethlehem and paid Jesus respect by offering him some presents: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
However, it was not until the Middle Ages that the three magi were given their current names: Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.
Thanks to Spanish written and artistic testimonies, kept in the National Library of Spain, we know of these three kings or magi, though in one of these pieces, Auto de los Reyes Magos (an allegorical religious play about them) they are referred to as astrologers.
It was believed that the three Magi could protect people from diseases like epilepsy and many people used to write the king's initials CMB at their home's door to keep demons and witches away. Nowadays, this still continues to be an Epiphany tradition for good blessings.
During the Renaissance, the legend of the Three Wise Men was spread out thanks to their appearance in many painting of famous artists of the time such as Fra Angelico, Boticelli, El Greco or Velazquez.
A celebration full of traditions
At present, the celebration of the day of the Three Wise Men is full of little traditions that make this day even more magical.
1. Aliatar, the Royal Page
It is also traditional that days or even weeks before the 6th of January children write their letters to their favorite King. These letters are normally collected by Prince Aliatar, the Three Wise Men's Royal Page. The Page travels around Spain, making stops in every place to get all the letters in time for the Kings to prepare the correct presents.
2. The Three Wise Men parade (Cabalgata de Reyes)
All around Spain, a parade runs throughout every city, town or small village in the early evening of January 5th, where the Three Wise Men, just arrived from Orient, march in spectacular carriages full of gifts, preceded and followed by a large group of Royal pages, art companies, dancers...
The Three Wise Men distribute candy to the children, who are super excited to see them, knowing that that same night they will visit their homes while they are sleeping to leave their presents.
Unfortunately, this year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our "cabalgatas" have been suspended and children will only be able to see the Three Wise Men in small gatherings where social distance can be kept.
3. The night of January 5th
Although many children can not stand the excitement and would love to be able to open their gifts after the parade, the tradition says that Their Majesties come during the night to leave the presents and these must be opened the morning of the 6th.
We normally leave our shoes for the Three Wise Men to leave our presents. We also leave some cookies or "turrón" ( the Spanish typical Christmas sweet madeout of almond) , three glasses of milk for them to enjoy as well as some water and bread for their camels. It is a very long and stressful night for their Majesties to be able to deliver all presents on time and they need to get some energy before moving to the next home.
If you have behaved well all year, you'll be able to find the presents you wanted the next morning. If by any chance, you haven't been that good, you could find a lump of coal instead. Nowadays, this coal is a sweet that can be eaten and many families include it in the list of presents to make children realise that they have also made mistakes and need to behave better the next year.
4. "Roscón De Reyes"
The morning of the 6th of January everything is joy and excitement. Children wake up very early to open their presents and they normally spend the day visiting their relatives' homes to collect more gifts.
This day is traditional to eat a very special cake, Roscón de Reyes. A delicious ring-shaped sweet filled with almond, chocolate, cream or chocolate truffle and decorated with candied fruits of different colors.
But this cake is not only a real pleasure for the palate, it also comes with a little tradition. The cake always comes with three curious additions: a paper crown for the person who is lucky enough to find one of the other two surprises inside the cake.
Inside each cake there are two items: a small figure, normally Christmas themed, and a bean. Great fortune in the new year will be brought to the person who finds the figure. However, whoever finds the bean will have to pay for the cake according to the tradition.
Here in Spain we are all more than ready to receive the Three Wise Men tonight, exactly the same as every year. Despite these testing times we are living due to the pandemic, we'll try to enjoy this wonderful tradition in a safe way, but always with hope and thrill. We'll go to bed early and we'll wake up tomorrow morning super excited and happy, eager to enjoy this magical day to the fullest.
And who knows... maybe we will find a pair of Viscata espadrilles among our presents. At the end of the day we have all behaved ourselves, haven't we? ;)
¡Feliz Día de Reyes!