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Old 01-12-2018, 12:30 PM
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Default Canarian Weekly: Santa is ousted by gifts galore from royal trio

THE Feast of Epiphany is, traditionally, Spain’s main festive holiday, when children receive their presents from the Three Kings, rather than from Santa Claus.

On “El Día de los Reyes” (6th January), 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.

In a 2015 survey, Spanish children chose the Three Kings, overwhelmingly, as their favourite gift-giver (67%), rather than Santa (27%). And why shouldn’t they because, in effect, it is their Christmas Day.

In Spain “Los Reyes Magos”, – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar play a similar role to the one Santa adopts in many other parts of the world.

Spanish children write letters to the Three Kings, who then bring their gifts the night before, or on the Epiphany morning of 6th January.

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

Just as children in many other places leave out some food and drink for Santa, and a carrot for Rudolph, Spanish kids make sure to leave a drink for each of the Three Kings, and some food and drink for their camels. That’s because they believe it is the only night of the year when the animals actually eat and drink.

The royal trio, featuring hundreds of actors, are huge spectacles all over Spain, and are broadcast live on national television.

Every city and sizeable town stages a parade, and one of the biggest, in Madrid, draws crowds of 100,000, including thousands of children, eager to catch the sweets thrown into the crowd by the Three Kings themselves.

And even if the skies are clear, and there is no forecast of rain, children still brandish umbrellas as they line the parade route. The reason becomes clear as the King’s approach.

The umbrellas are opened and turned upside down, becoming an ideal receptacle for catching the handful of sweets thrown into the crowds.

The roles of the Three Kings in the famous parades have, traditionally, been played by city councillors. Because most kings 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 which, increasingly, characterises Madrid’s community”.

Some town councils have even chosen to replace a King in the parade with a Queen, all in the spirit of equality but causing outrage amongst traditionalists.

This year, one parade in Madrid featured two women and a drag queen, to highlight diversity and “bring visibility to the LGBTI” community.

Every year, on 6th January, Spaniards usually tuck into a Roscón de Reyes, a Three Kings cake baked in a ring, decorated with candied fruit and hiding a surprise… sometimes lucrative!

A small figurine of the baby Jesus, or a little toy for children, is 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.

This year El Corte Inglés, the huge Spanish department store, planted gold ingots inside 251 of the Roscón cakes sold from its premises across the country.

And that really would have been a sweet surprise for those finding one in their 6th January slice.
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