The biggest Alicante Christmas spectacular is the fiesta de Los Reyes Magos (the celebration of the three kings). As the rest of the world reluctantly goes back to their normal routines with the obligatory healthy diets and fitness plans designed to make up for the weeks of over indulging in December. This, combined with the backdrop of the doom and gloom that usually sets in during those first few dark days of January, tends to make the start of the year a fairly depressing time for most.
This is certainly not the case in Alicante and the rest of Spain, since the first few days of January are when Spanish children and adults eagerly await the arrival of the Three Kings. Yes, that’s right, the lucky Spanish are spoilt with another national public holiday on the 6th of January which is the cause for big family celebrations and in some senses bigger than Christmas Day itself. On this special day, they celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men who came from the East also called Reyes Magos, who came bearing gifts for Baby Jesus after following a star.
While the tradition of Santa is embraced globally and that is also the case of an Alicante Christmas, it is this Christmas Tradition called “the Los Reyes Magos” which is the main show when the winter holidays season comes around.
A brief history of Los Reyes Magos
Based on the Christian tradition, shortly after his birth baby Jesus was visited by three wise men. These three wise men were Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar and they came bearing gifts including gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Three Kings Festival features colourful street packed parades, lots of gifts and a celebration of Christmas. The Three Kings or the Three Wise Men are also known as Magi and travelled using a camel, horse and an elephant.
The Three Wise Men Day is celebrated worldwide but, in a lot of places, only through a mass and other Epiphany celebrations. In Spain, the Three Wise Men tradition grew into something very big.
A breakdown of the Three Kings Day in Spain Today
January 5: The Three Wise Men Day Parade
January 5 is the official date which the festivities of Los Reyes Magos begin. On this day the streets of Alicante, along with lots of other cities and towns, are full of thousands of people waiting eagerly for the parades to mark the arrival of the Kings. Sometimes, the arrival itself can be quite imaginative, I’ve seen the Kings arrive by Helicopter once and also by boat, as is usually the case in coastal cities like Alicante.
Once the Kings, disembark their boat they mingle with the kids in the port for a while before being given a police escort up to the Plaza de toros ready for the start of the Alicante Christmas parade. This day is marked with a huge parade of mechanized floats bearing the resplendently dressed Kings alongside other brightly costumed participants who flood down the streets from the plaza de toros to the town hall (Ayuntamiento). As they make their grand entry through town, they throw out sweets that rain down on the crowds who grab everything they can. There is such a feeling of fun and excitement in the air. It’s not easy to avoid getting hit by flying sweets…beware!
The Alicante Christmas cabalgata (parade) is big, colourful and is a sight to behold! The kings ride on elaborate floats or camels and they are surrounded by musicians, dancers and puppeteers. The goodies which come in the form of sweets and candies are supposedly meant for kids but you shouldn’t be surprised to see plenty of Spanish adults holding their umbrellas upturned trying to catch as many as possible (some people never grow up!). On the 5th of January, the atmosphere is very fun, friendly and family-oriented similar to Semana Santa (Easter) but without the sombre religiosity.
The parade attracts thousands of people and a lot of the major parades are televised across the country. The Kings’ Day parade happens during the early evening so that young children can watch the kings before going to bed. The children of Alicante, and all over Spain, go to bed early that night so that they don’t miss out on the gifts brought by the Wise Men. The children leave their favourite pair of shoes, clean and outside of their doors to be filled with gifts. Also, they write letters to the Three Kings asking for specific things.
January 6: The arrival of Los Reyes Magos
The morning of the 6th January is the day that families come together to watch their kids unwrap their presents. Later in the day the celebrations continue with a big family meal similar to the way that Christmas Dinner is a special celebration in the U.K. or the USA.
Just a word of warning for the less well behaved…Los Reyes Magos gift coal sweets to naughty children.
Roscon de Reyes
An Alicante Christmas would not be complete without the famous Roscon de Reyes cake. It is very traditional for families to eat the Roscon de Reyes (King’s cake) as a part of this celebration. This sweet treat is a circular yeast based bread spruced with dried and jellied fruits and sugar nibbles and often filled with cream. Bakeries throughout Spain at this time of year are always overwhelmed with numerous orders for roscones.
It is very common for some families to immediately dig into their cake once they get from the Wise Men parade on January 5 while others are patient enough to wait until the 6th of January.
Embedded inside the cake is a plastic toy such as a monarch either a king or a queen and whoever is lucky enough to find it is the monarch for the day, thus they will have good luck for the remaining part of the year. Also hidden inside the cake is a bean like a fava bean and whoever finds it will have to pay for the cake for next year.
If you find yourself here at this time of year it might be worth seeking out El Pan De Tina (https://panaderia-tina.negocio.site) this well known bakery in an area called San Gabriel to the south of the city was the first prize winner of the 2020 annual Roscon de Reyes contest held during the Alicante Christmas each year. As you can see from the photo below, the queues are outside the door at this time of year for the Roscones at this bakery.
You can see a small video of the different Roscones in the competition here: https://www.informacion.es/alicante/2020/01/02/pan-tina-gana-concurso-roscones-5004099.html
2020 has proven to be a difficult year for everyone due to the pandemic, this has obviously seriously affected social gatherings. So, the Covid situation means that, sadly, Alicante’s official head of fiestas (what a great job!!!), Manuel Jimenez, has announced that next year’s (2021) Fiesta de Los Reyes will be held online only.
Happy New Year to all, and let’s look forward to an Alicante Christmas much more like it should be next year.
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