Men Bearing Gifts: Celebrating Three Kings Day

Until I moved to live in Spain, January 6th only meant one thing to me – the twelfth night – or, more importantly, the day you are meant to have all your Christmas decorations packed away until next year.

three kings parade[Image credit: Flickr (CC) Paul and Jill]

Now, of course, I know that it’s the day that La Fiesta de Los Reyes takes place throughout Spain to celebrate the day the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem to present the baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.   It is also the most important day for Spanish children, as they receive their festive gifts from the Three Kings rather than Father Christmas (although every year Santa is becoming increasingly popular).

The fun starts on the previous evening, usually with processions passing though most towns and cities.  During the late afternoon, the crowds grow in anticipation of the arrival of the Three Kings on huge motorised floats, horseback, camels or, in the case of my local mountain village a year or two ago – in the back of a police car!

three kings float[Image credit: (cc) Paul and Jill]

As daylight fades away, you might hear the drums and music of the approaching parade, heralding the arrival of the Three Kings.

People on the floats throw boiled sweets towards the waiting crowds on either side.  But beware!  Some of the younger people on the floats can be rather enthusiastic throwers, with sweets being hurled out like missiles!  If you’re not careful you’ll get your eye taken out!  Many in the crowd come prepared, holding up-turned umbrellas to catch the booty, whilst others just scrabble around the ground, stuffing the fallen sweets in their pockets or bags.

It´s quite a sight to see adults scuttling around grabbing sweets off the floor totally without embarrassment – in fact, it´s easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all!

After the parade, most families head home where, before going to bed,  the children will put out something nice to eat and drink for the Three Kings, plus water for their camels. They also leave out their best pair of shoes to be filled with presents.  The next morning, if the children have been good then they will find presents in and around their shoes, if not, then only a lump of coal will have been left for them – though I suspect that doesn´t happen very often.

Roscon de Reyes

On January 6th, most families gather around the table to enjoy their Roscón de Reyes.   This is a ring-shaped bun or sweet bread, sugar-frosted and decorated with fruit flavoured jellies and fruit. The bun is sliced in half and filled with a mock cream mixture.  Hidden somewhere in the cream will be a novelty such as small model king and, if you are lucky enough to find one of the hidden figurines in your portion, then tradition has it that you will be blessed with good luck for the coming year.  Though I guess it would be bad luck if you inadvertently swallowed it and choked!

Belen in Malaga Town Hall

Nativity scene at Malaga Town HallThis is also the final opportunity to see one of the many Belénes (Nativity scenes) around the town or city.  I photographed this one inside Málaga Town Hall (Ayuntamiento de Málaga) last Sunday.  There was quite a queue to get in by the time I left.

Queue of people to see the Belen at Malaga Town Hall

Which is your favourite fiesta or festival?

You might also like to look at:

My Travel Reflections on 2013

Malaga’s Urban Street Art

The Buddhist Stupa of the Eastern Costa del Sol

Spain’s Christmas Lottery: El Gordo

El Gordo lottey ticketImage credit: alvy (Flickr CC)

Spain as a nation is lottery mad!

It is not uncommon to see a long queue of people outside a state-run lottery kiosk, where various forms of lottery ticket can be purchased. You may even find yourself approached in the street or in bars by people selling tickets.

But it’s at Christmas that their enthusiasm really does go overboard.

It was estimated last year that 98% of all Spanish adults participated in El Gordo (literal translation “The Fat One”), meaning that the Spanish Christmas lottery has the biggest prize pool of any lottery in the world, last year totaling over two and a half billion euros!

Tickets are very expensive, around €200 each, but you don’t have to buy a whole ticket. Most tickets are sold in decimos, or tenths, and often groups of neighbours or families will club together to buy a ticket between them.  This type of communal gambling can mean that whole villages or groups of workers can suddenly become very wealthy.

El Gordo is drawn only once a year, on December 22nd, with the process taking in excess of four hours.

The draw procedure has followed exactly the same form for over 100 years, with the pupils of the San Ildefonso school (formerly reserved for orphans of public servants) drawing the numbers and corresponding prizes, and singing the results aloud in front of the public.  Believe it or not, people sit by their televisions or radios for much of the day, watching or listening to the live broadcast, eagerly awaiting the results.

In the video, the boy is singing “one thousand euros“, which is the prize for that particular number drawn – and the girl sings the winning numbers which will each have that prize of one thousand euros.

To be honest, it’s not the most riveting TV show …. unless they happen to draw your number, of course!

The chances of winning a prize in the Spanish Christmas lottery are around 1:6, though not every one wins a fortune. Those who manage to win back their initial stake tend to spend it by buying a ticket for El Niño, the second largest draw of the year, which takes place on January 6th.

Buena suerte!

Do you ever buy lottery tickets and, more importantly, have you ever won?


Whilst you´re here, why not have a look at:

A Celebration of Fried Breadcrumbs: Migas Festival in Torrox pueblo

Fresh Figs Stuffed with Goat´s Cheese and wrapped in Smoked Bacon

Cost of Living in Spain: August 2013


The Festival of Virgen del Carmen

Crowd outside the church waiting for the doors to open

In a festival that dates back several hundred years, many coastal towns and fishing villages in Spain celebrate the Fiesta del Día de Virgen del Carmen as the protector of mariners and fishermen.

Every year around 16th July, spectacular maritime processions of decorated fishing boats known as jabegas head out to sea carrying their precious cargo – an effigy of the Virgen del Carmen, to bless their fishing grounds.

The vessels, many decorated with brightly coloured flags and bunting, each crowded with people, gather under the late dusk sky patiently waiting for the official party of sailors, fishermen, clergy and authorities to bring the Statue of the Virgin on board the boat that will lead the procession.

But before that, the Virgen del Carmen is paraded through the streets for all to see.  There is an air of excitement with people surging forward for the best views as the parade passes by, before making its way to the water´s edge.

Doors open - and there she is!

Virgen del Carmen 2012

Carrying the statue with bare feet

The line of bearers carrying the Virgen del Carmen

Solemn faces as they carry the statue through the streets

The crowds jostle for position to get the best view

Crowded boats waiting for the Virgen del Carmen to arrive at the harbourside

Caleta de Velez harbour as dusk falls

Harbour marker beacon flashes

Boats awaiting the arrival of the Virgen del Carmen

Excited people crowd onto the boats

The statue of Virgen del Carmen being loaded onto the boat

Celebrations vary slightly from town to town along the coast, east of Málaga.  In La Caleta de Vélez the parade is held each year on the feast day of the Virgen del Carmen, 16th July.   Some towns and villages celebrate the following weekend, but there will be posters displayed in local shops, announcing the day and time, if you want to join in the festivities.

My photographs show last year´s celebrations in La Caleta de Vélez, situated at the mid-coastal point of La Axarquía region.

In the video below, you can see the festivities held in 2011 in the town of Torre del Mar, just along the coast from La Caleta de Vélez.

Which is your favourite Spanish festival or fiesta?

Whilst you´re here, why not have a look at the following articles too?

Queen of the Seas: Virgen del Carmen

The heart of Cómpeta: El Paseo de las Tradiciones

Patatas a lo pobre: Poor man´s potatoes

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Golden Hour

The Spanish Postal Delivery System

[Image credit CC: Ian Britton]

If you choose to live in a town or village in the Axarquía, there will probably be a postal delivery to your house on most week days, just as you would expect in many countries.  Depending on where you live in the world, you might think it strange, but most front doors here in Spain don’t have letter boxes set into them, making mail delivery a little more complicated.

Your correspondence will usually be left in a lockable post box fastened to the wall at the front of your house.  That’s always assuming, of course, that you have a lockable post box.   If you don’t, it’s likely that the postman will push the letters in the gap under your front door.  I can recall when we rented a house in the beautiful white village of Frigiliana, before we bought our present house,  seeing letters poking out from underneath many of the doors, as I walked through the narrow village streets.

Post Office, Competa, Spain

If you choose to live in the countryside (el campo), you will not have your post delivered to your home, but instead you will need to go to your local village post office to collect it.

Before the post office in the village of Cómpeta moved into new premises a few years ago, this service was free to residents in the area where I live.    We had all been allotted Post Office box numbers (Apartado de Correos) and we would then queue up, as we Brits are so good at, waiting our turn to be given our goodies!

You knew you had truly been accepted into the local community when the Spanish postmistress didn’t need to ask for your post office box number ….she just went to the pigeon-hole, situated behind the counter, and took out your bundle of post!

The Post Office queue was always a sociable event, with locals and expats chatting and listening in to each other’s conversations.  It was always a place to learn what was happening in the village, particularly as you had chance to read the notice board, as you shuffled past it, whilst you were waiting.

Sometimes, of course, the wait would stretch to half an hour, as the queue snaked around the Post Office and out of the door, which would result in people grumbling and moaning about what an old-fashioned system it was.  Personally, I always found it rather charming.

Sadly, the social aspect of mail collection all changed when Cómpeta Post Office moved into a new building and the system was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

Post Office box, Spain

In order to retain your Apartado de correos address, it would now cost you more than 50 Euros a year.  Each household was issued with a key, so you can visit to collect your mail from your own personal lockable mail box, in racks on the public side of the counter, anytime during post office opening hours.

So nowadays, people drop in – open the box, and are off again within a moment or two and without a drop of gossip in sight!

Shame that …. ;)

What is an aspect of modern life that you think has changed for the worse?

You might also enjoy:

Death in the Afternoon: The Round Cemetery of Sayalonga

A Slice of Life: Garden and Plant Irrigation

Zafarraya Pass: Walking with Neanderthal Man