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In Spain, the Wise Men are Kings

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For many Christians, today marks the Epiphany when wise men or three kings bring gifts to Jesus in Bethlehem. NPR's Miguel Macias says in Spain, it's a holiday not to be missed because of the food and the presents.

PAULA: Hola, Miguel (speaking Spanish).

MIGUEL MACIAS, BYLINE: That is 6-year-old Paula reporting to me over WhatsApp on what the three kings left for her this morning.

GONZALO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: Gonzalo is her 5-year-old brother who's barely been able to sleep in anticipation.

ANA RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: Their mother, Ana Ramirez, says that Gonzalo has been asking her for days, how long until the kings come? Was I a good boy?

ESTEBAN RUIZ-BALLESTEROS: (Through interpreter) The wise men have a very particular role in the Bible in the New Testament.

MACIAS: Esteban Ruiz is an anthropology professor at the University Pablo de Olavide in Seville.

RUIZ-BALLESTEROS: (Through interpreter) They represent a connection between the Eastern and Western traditions. These so-called eastern magicians represent that link and how these characters come to recognize the arrival of Jesus Christ.

MACIAS: And like all the best holidays, food is at the center.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIXER)

MACIAS: Yesterday, I woke up to the sounds of a mixer in the kitchen. My girlfriend, Maria Jesus, is making a roscon de reyes.

MARIA JESUS: (Through interpreter) It's basically a spongy dough. It's sweet. And it's shaped in the form of a large doughnut. Sometimes, it's just a cake with no filling, and sometimes it has some filling. I like the ones with whipped cream inside. Another thing that is important about a three kings cake is that it comes with a dry bean inside and a little present.

MACIAS: If your portion gets the bean, you're responsible for getting the cake for your family the next year. But roscon is not an easy thing to make from scratch. And honestly, most people just buy it from the bakery, but the good ones are coveted, and you have to order them in advance.

CHARO MENA: (Speaking Spanish, laughter).

MACIAS: Charo Mena waits outside of Panaderia Ana in Seville. Right after noon on January 5, the bakery is so busy today that they had to rearrange their counter to face the street and clients wait in a long line along the narrow sidewalk.

ANA FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: Ana Fernandez is the manager at the bakery and it's a big day for her shop. I ask her how many roscones they sell on a day like this.

FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: Four hundred roscones de reyes. Later in the afternoon, the three kings make their appearance at the parade that goes through the city, and it is a party.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MACIAS: The cabalgata in Seville has 33 floats this year. People on the floats throw candy, also some presents but mostly lots and lots of candy, and kids, adults, everybody's happy. It is pure joy.

(CHEERING)

MACIAS: But these cabalgatas have also turned into a bit of a performance, as anthropologist Esteban Ruiz explains.

RUIZ-BALLESTEROS: (Through interpreter) These days, cabalgatas have become an event for the masses, much more connected to consumerism than any other religious practice.

MACIAS: But you know what? In the morning of January 6, the magic of the Reyes Magos fills homes across the country and not just for kids.

(Speaking Spanish).

JESUS: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: Me, I got a pair of cool boots, a hat and some chocolate. And I may have even heard the kings on their camels bringing our presents last night.

Miguel Macias, NPR News, Seville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miguel Macias is a Senior Producer at All Things Considered, where he is proud to work with a top-notch team to shape the content of the daily show.