Until recent years, Father Christmas or Santa Claus and his flying reindeer didn’t make stops in Spain. Instead, children are widely visited on January 6, the day of Epiphany, by the Reyes Magos, or the Three Kings / Three Wise Men who bestowed gifts upon the baby Jesus: Gaspar, the King of Sheba, who brought Frankincense; Melchior, the King of Arabia, who gifted Gold; and Balthazar, King of Tarse and Egypt, who gave Myrrh. There is much anticipation and excitement leading up to this visit starting on December 26, Boxing Day, when children write letters to the Kings asking for presents.
On January 4 families go to the bakery to buy a Roscón de Reyes, a sweet circular cake that is enjoyed for breakfast on January 5, Epiphany Eve. The same day the Three Kings and their entourage can be seen parading throughout towns in Spain on camel shaped floats, and sometimes real camels, showering onlookers with sweets. That night, children leave shoes outside or under the Christmas tree that will hopefully be filled with goodies by the Kings. Naughty children don’t make out so badly either if they find coal made of sugar in the morning. Glasses of cognac, walnuts and other treats are left out to refresh the Kings, along with a bucket of water for their loyal camels.
Children in the Basque country of Spain are get presents on Christmas Eve from Olentzero, said to be a jentillak – the last surviving member of the mythological race of Basque giants – a jovial man with a big appetite, who wears traditional Basque farmer clothes, a black beret and smokes a pipe. Before his arrival, children and adults parade through the regional towns with effigies of Olentzero, and sing songs dedicated to him.
In Catalonia Tió de Nadal, the Christmas Log, is a small hollow log standing on two legs with a painted on smiling face. Starting December 8 to Christmas Day, the log is “fed” small morsels of food and a blanket is draped over it for warmth. All this caring disappears on Christmas day when the dear log is battered with a stick so that it will release all of the sweets, dried fruits and nuts stuffed inside of it.
Although Santa, also called Papa Noel, has finally decided to start making stops in Spain on Christmas Eve, it doesn’t appear that he will replace the wonderful and interesting characters that have always visited the country.