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Celebrating Three Kings Day in Barcelona

Three Kings Day is the holiday that Spanish children look forward to the most: that’s when the Three Wise Men from the distant East come to bring gifts! Three Kings Day is indeed the highlight of the Christmas vacation in Spain and is celebrated grandly in all households. If you’re celebrating Three Kings Day in Barcelona for the first time this year, or if you’re just curious about how we celebrate it in Spain, read on!

The Three Kings Day Celebration in Spain

One of the most important celebrations in Spain, especially for children, is Three Kings Day. This festival commemorates the Biblical Christmas story of the arrival of the Three Wise Men from the East at the baby Jesus. In Spain, we celebrate this with a big party and lots of gifts. It’s good to know what’s involved if you’ve never celebrated Three Kings Day in Spain before.

What is Three Kings Day in Spain?

Three Kings Day, or Reyes Magos in Spanish and Reis Mags in Catalan, is an important holiday in Spain. It’s part of Christmas and is celebrated lavishly with lots of gifts and delicious food. For children in particular, this is a special time. They know that if they have been good over the past year, they will receive many presents from the Three Kings!

When is Three Kings Day in Spain?

Three Kings Day is celebrated every year on January 6, which is also a national holiday. The day before, on January 5, the Three Wise Men announce their arrival in Spain with big parades in the streets.

The Three Kings in Spain
The Three Kings in Spain

What do we celebrate on Three Kings Day?

On Three Kings Day, we celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men from the East to the newborn baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

Who were the Three Kings?

The names of the Three Wise Men were Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar (Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar in Spanish), and each represents a continent; Melchior for Europe, Caspar for Asia, and Balthazar for Africa.

According to the Biblical story, the Three Wise Men came from the far East on a camel. They followed the Star of Bethlehem, which led them to baby Jesus, the king of the Jews.

The Three Wise Men also brought him gifts: myrrh from Melchior, incense from Caspar, and gold from Balthazar. These were symbols of wealth (gold), worship and divinity (incense), and suffering and death (myrrh).

Nativity Scene at the Museu Frederic Marès in Barcelona
Nativity Scene at the Museu Frederic Marès in Barcelona

What happens on Three Kings Day in Spain?

In Spain, Three Kings Day is a national holiday and is celebrated with the family. And because the kings gave gifts to baby Jesus, we also give gifts on Three Kings Day in Spain.

The days before January 6, the excitement builds among the children: they write letters to the Three Kings, visit the Three Kings’ gift factory, and, of course, attend the festive entrance of the Three Kings on January 5, the Cabalgata de Reyes.

During the Cabalgata de Reyes (Three Kings procession), the Three Kings are welcomed and are given the keys to all Spanish households. Children can then see the Three Kings on their royal carriages with their own eyes, deliver their letters, and get delicious sweets.

Before going to sleep on January 5, children place their shoes in the living room with some treats for the camels, to wake up in the morning to a living room full of gifts. Then they visit family, where often more gifts await them!

Finally, everyone enjoys a festive lunch with the family, which often lasts for hours and is concluded with a roscón de reyes for dessert (Spanish Three Kings cake).

What do you give for Three Kings Day in Spain?

Spanish children are showered with gifts during Three Kings Day: toys, books, clothes, money… or coal, if you’ve been naughty! Often, you don’t just receive gifts from your parents, but also from all your aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, etc.

Generally, the most and the biggest gifts in Spain come from the Three Kings.

Based on the wish list that the children make for the Three Kings, the gifts are purchased.

Adults also exchange gifts. As a result, Three Kings Day is essentially a big gift celebration for everyone.

What do you eat for Three Kings Day in Spain?

The roscón de reyes is a typical delicacy eaten during Three Kings Day. It is a round pastry in the shape of an “o” that is decorated with candied fruit. Inside, the roscón is filled with a bean and a small figure of a king. Some people like it when the roscón is filled with whipped cream. Often, a crown comes with the roscón.

The lunch during Three Kings Day is just as festive as the Christmas dinner and includes multiple courses.

How is Three Kings Day celebrated in Barcelona?

In Barcelona, Three Kings Day is also celebrated in a big way, with special collection points for children’s letters to the Three Kings, a real gift factory, and of course, the parade. Below I will explain exactly how we celebrate Three Kings Day in Barcelona.

January 2-4: Writing letters and shopping for Three Kings Day

Before the Three Kings come, children must write a letter to the Three Kings with their wish list.

The children can then personally deliver their wish list to the assistants of the Three Kings, the patges reials, who can be found in multiple places in the city, such as at the Barcelona City Hall or the historic ship Pailebot Santa Eulàlia.

Based on this wish list, the gifts are purchased. The days before Three Kings Day are therefore a busy time in the shops of Barcelona, as everyone is busy buying gifts or getting food for Three Kings Day.

There are even special toy markets in Barcelona where people get all sorts of gifts. The largest one is on Gran Via, between the streets of Muntaner and Calàbria.

Here, you find not only children’s games but also music, handmade items, and typical sweets of these days. You also find coal for the children who have been naughty.

There is also a stall where people can bring gifts. This ensures that no child will be left without a gift.

Another Christmas market you can visit during these days is the Christmas market on Via Júlia in Nou Barris.

January 5: Three Kings Parade

On January 5, the day before Three Kings Day, the parade of the Three Kings through the city is held, the Cavalcada de Reis. In Barcelona, this is always a true spectacle that no child wants to miss.

Almost every neighborhood in Barcelona has its own parade, but the most important is the ‘central’ parade in the center of Barcelona. There, the Three Wise Men make their entrance into Barcelona from the port at El Moll de la Fusta at 18:00 hours every year.

Then they walk a route through the center of Barcelona with all sorts of decorated carriages, music, and dancers. They pass, among other places, Via Laietana, Plaça Urquinaona, Plaça Catalunya, Carrer Pelai, Plaça Universitat, Ronda de Sant Antoni, and Avinguda Paral·lel.

The order is always the same: first comes the carriage of Melchior, then Caspar, and finally Balthasar, with dancers and musicians in between, making the parade a true spectacle.

During the parade, candy is thrown towards the children, and children can still give their letters to one of the helper-men of the Three Kings.

On January 5, children go to bed early, not before leaving their shoes in the living room, where the gifts will be placed. Traditionally, a bowl of carrots and water is left for the camels of the Three Kings, who have to do all the carrying.

January 6: Opening gifts and celebrating

After an exciting night, the children wake up to a living room full of gifts, and the bowls for the camels are empty! Then the fun of opening gifts can begin.

According to tradition, if you’ve been a good child, you will receive many gifts. If you’ve been naughty, you will receive coal from the Three Kings.

Parents also receive gifts for Three Kings Day.

Afterward, most children go with their parents to visit the rest of the family, where they also receive gifts. As a child, this is wonderful because you find gifts at every aunt’s, uncle’s, and grandparent’s house!

In the afternoon, families have an extensive lunch together for the last time after all the holidays. The festive meal is then concluded with a special dessert, the Roscón de Reyes (or Tortell de Reis in Catalan). This is a pastry in the shape of an “o” decorated with candied fruit, and as a surprise lima beans and a figure of the Three Kings. Often, a crown comes with the roscón.

Whoever finds the figure gets the crown and becomes the king. Whoever finds the bean must buy the roscón the coming year. You can buy this at any bakery on January 6.

What to do during Three Kings Day in Barcelona?

As you can see, the festival of Three Kings Day is a great event to experience and one you can’t miss if you’re in Barcelona in January.

Especially fun if you are in Barcelona with children is to experience the Three Kings parade. There, candy is thrown and the children have a magical evening.

It is also nice to take a look at the gift factory of the Three Kings in Barcelona, which takes place every year in the Fàbrica de Creació Fabra i Coats, or to visit the toy market of the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, the Fira de Reis de la Gran Via.

On January 6, everything is closed and Barcelonians are busy celebrating Three Kings Day with their families. My tip is to get a roscón from the bakery and taste it. Additionally, on this day off, you can enjoy a quiet walk through the beach or the old center.

On January 7, working life resumes and the holidays are over, but for shopaholics, it is also the start of the winter sales.

Good to know

  • A number of traditions during Three Kings Day were already mentioned above. If you celebrate Three Kings Day in Barcelona, don’t forget to buy some gifts, experience the parade of the Three Kings, and celebrate this holiday with the family on January 6, with a piece of Roscón de Reyes as dessert.
  • Do you have a nativity scene at home? Then make sure the figures of the Three Kings are at the crib to give gifts to Jesus on January 6.
  • January 6 is a public holiday. Many museums, attractions, and other public institutions are therefore closed.
  • On January 7, all Christmas decorations may be put away.

Have you ever celebrated Three Kings Day in Spain and what did you think of it? I read your answers in the comments!

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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