When one Christmas isn’t enough…
If the festive season isn’t long enough and you want the excitement to continue into the New Year, Barcelona’s your city.
On 5 January the Catalan capital hosts La Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (the Three Kings’ Parade), followed by the official bank holiday of El Día de los Reyes (the day of the kings) on the 6th. Christmas Day takes a back seat in Catalonia and throughout Spain as locals fling themselves into these early-January festivities with gusto.
While there are clearly many similarities between this celebration and the way that Christmas is celebrated in many countries, the traditions surrounding the day of the kings are centuries old.
The story goes that after the three Kings (aka the Magi, or Three Wise Men) had been to Bethlehem to give their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus, they then made their return journey. And on this return journey, they gave gifts to children – gifts which children in Spain wake up to on the morning of 6 January (Day of the Epiphany).
Similar to the way children write a letter to Santa, Spanish children write to the Three Kings in advance and prepare for their arrival by leaving out straw and water in their shoes for the camels. They wake up early the next morning to find out whether their shoes will be empty and if their letters have been answered. Kids who haven’t behaved themselves over the year may end up with nothing more than a bag of carbón dulce – a sweet that resembles charcoal. Many well-behaved children also receive some – just to remind them to keep up the good work next year!
Spanish families spend the day very much like Christmas, exchanging gifts and tucking into a large family meal.
Three Kings’ Parade – a city-wide party
The celebrations actually begin on the evening of 5 January when the Three Kings arrive in Barcelona to a stunning reception of crowds, cannons and fireworks. Thousands of people gather around the city’s port in anticipation of the three kings sailing in on their own ship – the Santa Eulàlia (named after the city’s patron saint). Once on land, they’re greeted by Barcelona’s Mayor, who hands them a set of keys to allow them to go round the houses of the city distributing gifts.
But this is just the beginning. A parade soon weaves its way around the streets of central Barcelona, ending up at the Magic Fountain at the foot of Montjuïc. Around 500,000 people turn up to see this spectacular parade of colourful floats, giant animals and professional dancers, actors and circus acts. The streets of the city are also crowded with stalls selling all manner of sweet treats and other culinary delights to revellers as well as children clamouring for the thousands of sweets thrown from floats to the crowds.
Don’t miss out on anything, check out our route map for the Three Kings Parade and our itinerary for the evening of Saturday 5 January.
16:30 – Preparation for the arrival of three kings by the Columbus monument at the Rambla de Mar.
17:00 – Three Kings arrive on board the Santa Eulàlia boat and are greeted by the Mayor.
18:30 – Start of the Three Kings’ Parade on Avinguda Marques de l’Argentera, near the entrance to Ciutadella Park.
19.15 – Parade goes up Via Laietana, heads to Plaça Urquinaona, Carrer Fontanella towards Plaça Catalunya and Carrer Pelai.
19:45 – Parade continues across Plaça de la Universitat and then goes down Ronda de Sant Antoni and Carrer de Sepúlveda.
21:00 – Parade heads down Avinguda Paral·lel and on to Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina as it nears its end.
21:30 – End of the parade by the iconic Barcelona landmark, the Magic Fountain, just off Plaça Espanya.
One for the family
Celebrations on the 6th are usually very family-oriented. For breakfast or lunch it’s traditional to indulge in a special kind of cake, ‘el roscón de Reyes’, topped with a crown. Hidden within the cake is a miniature figure of a king or a crown and whoever is lucky enough to find it is treated like a king for the rest of the day. However another prize (usually a bean) is also hidden in the cake and the unlucky recipient has to pay for the cake the following year.
Experience the ‘Spanish Christmas’
The day of the Kings is a very merry festival, not to mention an amazing spectacle, and it’s no wonder that visiting Barcelona for this celebration is becoming increasingly popular. The whole city gets involved (there are loads of smaller parades spread throughout the suburbs) and an infectious atmosphere of child-like excitement takes over. Whether you’re a big kid, want to experience a different take on winter celebrations, or if one Christmas just isn’t enough for you, come to Barcelona this January and beat the winter blues Spanish style!