Epiphany, which occurs 12 days after Christmas on 6 January, is a public holiday in Spain. Epiphany has the status of virtually a second Christmas in Spain and is celebrated with great fanfare.
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Epiphany has been celebrated since the 2nd Century A.D., making it one of the oldest of all Christian holidays. It marks the day on which the Wise Men from the East, mentioned in the Gospel of Mathew, are thought to have visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. For this reason, it is referred to in Spain as “The Festival of the Three Royal Magi.” It is also the day years later on which John the Baptist is thought to have baptised Jesus in the Jordan River, but this aspect of the holiday is given more attention in Eastern Orthodox than in Roman Catholic countries.
In Spain, children anticipate Epiphany as the time when they will open the majority of their “Christmas presents.” The Three Kings are believed to visit and leave gifts behind. Many children write letters to the kings on 26 December asking for specific presents. And on the eve of Epiphany, kids put straw in their shoes and leave them by the front door or out on a balcony so that the horses or camels of the Three Kings have something to eat. In return, they expect candies and small gifts to fill their shoes. Some also leave water buckets, walnuts, and other edibles for the kings and their steeds.
In Spanish tradition, the Three Kings are given names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Gaspar wears a brown beard and a green coat. He is said to be King of Sheba and the one who brought frankincense to baby Jesus to indicate His right to be worshiped. Melchior has a white beard and a gold-coloured coat. He is King over Arabia and brings Jesus the gift of gold, indicating His status as King of Kings. Balthazar has a black beard and a purple coat on. He is thought to be King of Egypt and brings Jesus myrrh, indicating he would suffer and die for sinners, since myrrh was used to embalm the dead in those days.
Both the Star of Bethlehem and the Three Kings are symbols of Epiphany in Spain, and you can see them in numerous parades held all over the country. Some Epiphany parades will also have giant camel-shaped floats or even live camels. Almost every sizable town in Spain will have an annual Epiphany parade.