Early January is time for holiday presents in Spain rather than Christmas. Children (and adults) receive their presents on January 6th (the Catholic feast day of the Epiphany). It celebrates the visitation of the three Wise men (the Magi) bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. You know, they´re the ones that come in on camels bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh and are usually part of any nativity scene.
In Spain the Three Wise men bring children their gifts. Children write to them and ask for their gifts rather than Santa Claus and letters are addressed to the Three Kings of the Orient instead of to the North Pole. The Christmas holiday is more about family and not about getting gifts (similar to Thanksgiving in the US in that sense) … the Epiphany is for gift giving (January 6th). The night before, many towns hold parades, known as the “Cabalgata de Reyes Magos”, where the three kings pass through the town throwing candy and small presents to the children of the crowd. Many towns in Spain have Cabalgatas. In Cantabria, Northern Spain the most famous Cabalgata is in Santillana de Mar. The three Kings ride into this historic small town on camels with their entourage of subects. The Cabalgata of Satillana is a “Fiesta de Interes Turistico Nacional”, a distinction given in Spain to festivals that are especially unique or representative culturally.
In Santillana, much of the town participates in playing out scenes of the bible including Roman soldiers, Mary and Joseph and their travel to Bethlehem, the angels annunciation to the shepherds and the arrival of the three Wise men to the manger to bear their gifts. Basically it´s everything that you see in a typical manger scene but acted out over the course of the evening. It´s really a theatrical production of a nativity scene and everyting leading up to it.
While Santillana is the most famous of the Cabalgatas in Cantabria, there are many other towns that have them. Families bring their children to see the three Wise men parade and shower them with candy one last time before they go about bringing them their gifts that night. Much anticipation tonight in homes throughout Spain. We´ll be off tonight to the Cabalgata to see the three Wise men with the little ones in our family and enjoy one of the fun traditional celebrations in Cantabria. Later tonight we´ll have to “help” the three Wise men in getting their gifts into the house as the camels don´t travel too well down the chimney 😉