Less than a week is left until Christmas Day — the moment that every kid in America has been waiting for since the 26th of December of the previous year. As we can surely all remember, in the mind of a child, December seems to last forever as the country eats, sleeps, and breathes Christmas; the decorations, the trees, holiday music on the radio and in stores, the rush to get all the gift-buying done in time — no one has any doubt as to what holiday season it is, especially the younger ones. Although Christmas in Spain is slightly different, the children here are just as excited to enjoy the holidays — and the gifts — as that much-awaited moment gets closer and closer.
So Many Days Off?
Just like in the US, children in Madrid are given off quite a bit of time for Christmas. This year, as you probably well know by now, Christmas Day falls on a Thursday, Christmas Eve of course being the previous day. On the Comunidad de Madrid 2014-2015 school calendar, pupils are given off from Saturday, December 20th up through Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 — a whole two-and-a-half weeks of vacation. The reason for such a long Christmas break is because, unlike in America, in Spain Epiphany is observed, thus extending the days off far beyond New Year’s.
The Reyes Magos in Spain
Of course in English-speaking countries, it’s jolly, old St. Nick who magically brings gifts to children all over the world during the wee hours of Christmas morning. In Spain, however, Santa Claus, though somewhat present, is an entirely imported character. He appears to some extent, but particularly in decorations around town set up by major department stores and international chains.
In Spain, the gift-giver is not one person, but rather three; as opposed to having Santa Claus or a similar character, in Spanish culture it is the Wise Men who bring children gifts. These wise men have been personified as three characters: Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar. Dressed as royalty, Melchor is generally depicted as having long white hair and a long white beard, Gaspar, long brown hair and a long brown beard, and Baltasar is typically given an ethnic look, having dark hair and dark skin.
The Reyes Magos, as they are known in Spanish, are said to bring children gifts which are opened on January 6th, not on Christmas Day as in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Although the Reyes Magos are based on biblical characters, they play the same kind of role as Santa Claus does in America, who, despite originating from religious tradition, has essentially become a secular figure. In fact, the Bible mentions wise men, but does not specify that there were three of them, but rather, three gifts; there is no mention of them being kings either. Thus, the Reyes Magos are basically cultural icons and not actually religious figures.
Santa Claus Ain’t Coming to Town
Even though Santa won’t be coming to town, children in Spain won’t go without gifts. Not only do the Reyes Magos leave presents at home, but they also ‘come to town’. Every year in Madrid, the City organizes the Cabalgata de Reyes, which is when the Reyes Magos ‘arrive from afar’ and stroll through the capital in a parade which includes horses and floats. All along the route of the parade, candy is thrown into the crowd, the children often collecting it in upside-down open umbrellas.
Christmas All Around the World
As usual, ‘Spain is different’, as evidenced by its slightly different holiday traditions. Just like in the States, however, Spain is a great place for children to be this time of year, when they receive gifts and enjoy the ‘most wonderful time of the year’.