I have been meaning to write about how we celebrate Christmas in Spain all Christmas long. Here we are, on January 7th, when Christmas is over even here, in Spain, and I haven’t come up with much. But it may actually be fitting that I waited so long, because then I get to write about the main difference between Spain and the US when it comes to these christmasy matters: el día de Reyes.
While in the US you get one chubby bearded guy, dressed in red and brought in by moose traction, in Spain we get three magical kings, Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar, who arrive from Oriente (read Middle East here), regally riding on their camels., loaded with toys and, in the event that you didn’t behave as you should have, coal.
Although I see the practical advantage of receiving the gifts on the night of the 25th, at the beginning of the holidays, which allows the kids to enjoy the toys (yes, any anti consumerism delusions went down the drain the day I had kids), I am very fond of this quintessentially hispanic festivity that gave us a full day of happiness on January 6th before we had to return to school when we were kids.
If you do the math, that means that Christmas lasts a whole week longer than in the US. Every now and then I am Spanish (read irresponsible) enough to have my kids miss two weeks of school in order to enjoy the full package and spend a whole month in here. This year, with my dad’s health being frail, I felt the need to enjoy it even more, as he loves the lights, the decorations, the sweets, the gatherings, the noise… Even if by day two the whole deal has driven him nuts. It has been a weird Christmas, but Christmas nonetheless.
Going back to the three guys. This tradition comes from the Bible, where the Three Wise Men came from the east to bring baby Jesus Frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Fast forward 2016 years, and this tradition has become quite commercialized, and it is the biggest gift giving day in Spain, despite the fact that nowadays they have to compete with Papa Noel (European for Santa Claus) and regional figures like Olentzero, a coal miner who brings gifts on the night of the 24th in the Basque Country, my region of Spain.
On the evening of the 5th there are parades to welcome them on most Spanish cities, and kids all around the country leave their shoes under the tree, along with three glasses of liquor (no milk and cookies here, yo, this is a party country) and some food for the camels. When I was a kid my dad went to great lengths for me to keep believing, like leaving a ladder by the window so they could climb up.
For us, January the 6th is like Christmas morning. Full of gifts, family, happiness… Or so say the ads. For either breakfast or after lunch, you eat Roscón de Reyes, a typical cake quite similar to the King cake that is baked for Fat Tuesday on Mardi Gras. In Chicago, you can find it in many Mexican bakeries. I have made my poor husband drive 40 minutes to get one, as wherever we are, we celebrate this holiday, one of my favorites. I even Spanish up and let the kids skip school if we are in Chicago. But those are some of the things you have to do when you live in a country other than yours, and your favorite holiday falls on a workday.
For now, they will have one more Spanish Christmas in their pockets to cherish as they grow up. And I will keep hoping that, one day, they help their own kids set up their shoes under the tree on January 5th.
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