Ah, Christmas – for many people, there’s no more magical time of the year. But celebrating this holiday extravagantly goes back only to the 19th century, and in many countries the festivities didn’t take place on December 25 at all, but rather today, on the Epiphany, January 6 (the twelfth day of Christmas, with 12 drummers drumming, as the song goes). In fact, though Spanish-speaking countries have largely jumped on the Yuletide bandwagon with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and all the rest of it, many of them have also retained a colorful separate celebration on January 6 of the arrival of the Tres Reyes Magos (the Magi, aka Three Wise Men) who brought the baby Jesus their famous gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. This, of course, explains why my friends’ sons Joffre and Andreu in Barcelona didn’t sleep very well last night: like children all throughout Spain and Latin America, they’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of their own version of Santa Claus, times three.

Before these little dudes were born, I was in Barcelona one January to witness locals excitedly lining city streets in the evening chill on the evening of the 5th for a cabalgata (parade), and sure enough, before long  a procession was advancing slowly down the street – figures garbed in exotic eastern robes carrying fans, feathers, boxes and other such accessories. Amid them, an animal or two, plus three taller figures in turbans and richly adorned headgear – the Three Kings themselves, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar. After marching down a set route, they reached a staging area with three thrones, where they received little children just like Santa does, on their laps. In Spain, of course, this is a huge deal – the proceedings in central Madrid are broadcast via national television like the Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day parades in the United States (check out a video of their arrival in Madrid in 2009, below). But throughout the Spanish-speaking world – including places where you may find yourself spending January 6 – if you don’t actually catch a cabalgata you’ll surely at least spot decorations and sweets like the Roscón de Reyes (an oval sweet bread studded with candied fruit, a slightly more palatable version of our Christmas fruitcake or "figgy pudding").

It’s a charming, joyful occasion I hope you get to experience one day soon.

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