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Why Spain loves the Three Kings more than Santa

Even though Christmas Day is celebrated across Spain and the festive spirit is very much alive, Spaniards still tend to go 'all in' on January 6th with the arrival of 'los Reyes' (the Three Kings). Sorry Santa!

Why Spain loves the Three Kings more than Santa
Photo of one of the three kings during Tenerife´s 2015 three kings parade: Desiree Martin/AFP

The Feast of Epiphany on January 6th is traditionally Spain’s main festive holiday, when children receive their presents brought not by Santa Claus, but by the Three Kings.

On “El Día de los Reyes” Spain and Latin American countries celebrate the biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the Three Kings, also known as the Three Wise Men or Magi. 

Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: The Three Wise Men. Nina-no/Wikimedia

Kings are cooler than Santa 

In a 2015 survey, Spanish children overwhelmingly chose the Three Kings as their favourite gift giver (67 percent) over Santa Claus (27 percent). 

In Spain ‘Los Reyes Magos’ – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – play a similar role to Santa Claus in many other parts of the world. Spanish children write letters to the Three Kings, or Three Wise Men, who then bring the children gifts the night before, or on the morning of the Epiphany, January 6th.

In some houses children leave their shoes outside the door so that the Three Kings will fill them with gifts, often leaving bigger presents alongside.

Just as children in many other places leave out some food and drink for Santa, and a carrot for Rudolph, Spanish children make sure to leave a drink for each of the Three Kings and some food and drink for their camels – as this is the only night of the year when the animals eat and drink. 

Three Kings Parades 

Three Kings parade in Madrid in 2015. Photo: AFP

Huge Three Kings parades or ‘cabalgatas’ are held around Spain on January 5th. They are usually enormous spectacles featuring hundreds of actors and are broadcast live on Spanish television. 

Every city and sizeable town usually stages a parade.

Photo: Mutivac42 / Flickr

The oldest Three Kings parade in Spain has taken place in Alcoy, Alicante since 1885. The Alcoy celebration traditionally includes dozens of children who controversially ‘black up’ to represent “pajes negros” who deliver the presents on behalf of the Kings (see picture above). Many say the tradition is offensive and perpetuates racist stereotypes.

Umbrellas are always required

Even if the skies are clear and there is no forecast for rain, you will see children brandishing umbrellas as they line the parade route. The reason becomes clear as the Kings approach and the umbrellas are opened and turned upside down becoming the ideal receptacle for catching the handful of candies thrown into the crowds.


Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

The roles of the Three Kings in the famous parades have traditionally been played by city councillors. Because most are white, Balthazar has usually been played by a “blacked-up” white man, which has often been branded as racist by critics. 

In 2016, for the first time ever, Madrid’s left-wing council called time on the controversial tradition, promising to employ a black actor for the part “to reflect the integration and diversity that increasingly characterizes Madrid’s community.”

Likewise in Barcelona, Balthazar is played by a black actor and is also accompanied by an entourage of black drummers and dancers. 

Some town councils have chosen to replace a King in the parade with a Queen all in the spirit of equality, however this has caused outrage amongst traditionalists.

Roscón de Reyes 

Photo: El Coleccionista de Instantes Fotografía & Video/Flickr 

On January 6th, Spaniards typically tuck into a Roscón de Reyes, a Three Kings cake baked in a ring and decorated with candied fruit and hiding a, sometimes lucrative, surprise.

A small figurine of the baby Jesus, or a little toy for children, is typically hidden inside the dough, as is a dry fava bean. Whoever finds the toy is crowned king or queen of the celebration, while the one who finds the bean has to buy the Roscón next year.

Each year El Corte Inglés hides gold ingots inside some of its Roscón cakes sold from its stores across Spain – which would be a sweet surprise for someone to find in their slice on January 6th. 

Spanish Kings?

Might the three Kings originally have come from Andalusia? The last Pope thought so.

In his 2012 book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI claimed the gift-bearing trio came from Tarsis – or Tartessosa – a kingdom that historians place somewhere between the provinces of Huelva, Cadiz and Sevilla.

 Another lottery

For those who didn’t become rich with El Gordo – the Christmas lottery drawn in Spain on December 22nd – there is a second chance with El Niño, the January 6th draw that offers an estimated prize pool of €700 million.

Extended holidays

The very best thing about the Three Kings – apart from the presents, the parade and the cake – is that Spaniards are guaranteed another day off work and children don’t go back to school until after Epiphany. 

While in other countries, Christmas decorations may have been packed away and normal working life resumed, in Spain the holiday spirit continues until January 6th.

Photo: AFP

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Will anywhere in France get a white Christmas this year?

A white Christmas might be at the top of many people's festive wish list but will it actually come true for anyone in France this year?

Haut-Koenigsbourg castle in Orschwiller, eastern France.
Haut-Koenigsbourg castle in Orschwiller, eastern France. Non-mountainous parts of the country will not see snow this year. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

If you’re in France and have been dreaming of a white Christmas, you are probably out of luck. 

It has been freezing in recent days with temperatures falling to a low of -33.4C in Jura on Wednesday morning, but the cold spell isn’t going to last. 

Temperatures across the country will hover around the 10C level in most of France by the afternoon on December 25th according to Météo France, with parts of the country including Brittany and some parts of eastern France experiencing rainfall. 

By the afternoon on Christmas Day, the chances of snow look extremely limited. Source:

On Saturday, there will be some snowfall, but only if you are high in the mountains at an altitude of 1,800-2,000m. On Sunday, places above 1,500m could also see snow – but this rules out the vast majority of the country. 

Roughly half the country will see sunshine over the weekend. The French weather channel said that this Christmas could be among the top five or six warmest since 1947. 

Last year, Météo France cautioned: “While we often associate snow with Christmas in the popular imagination, the probability of having snow in the plains [ie not in the mountains] during this period is weak in reality.”

One of the last great Christmas snowfalls, outside of France’s mountainous areas, came in 2010 when 3-10 cm of snow fell in Lille, Rouen and Paris. In Strasbourg, 26cm fell. 

On Christmas Day in 1996, 12 cm of snow fell in Angers – ironically, this was also the day that the film, Y’aura t’il de la neige à Noël? (Will there never be snow at Christmas?) was released. It had been ten years since France had seen such snowfall outside of the Alps and Pyrenees. 

Météo France directly attributes declining rates of Christmas snowfall to climate change. Compared to 50 years ago, even the Alps receives the equivalent one less month of snowfall per year.