Okay, for starters with the Three Kings, you’ve got two milennia of history on the side of the Three Kings. Santa Claus has about 400 years of history; kind of. Advantage: Three Kings
The Three Kings are an ethnically diverse group that even include a black king. Santa is just some old farsighted white dude. Advantage: Three Kings
The Three Kings knew the young Jesus prior to all that crown of thorns torment. Santa only knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. Super Advantage: Three Kings
The Three Kings have a variety of gifts, but one of which unfortunately includes myrrh (MP-LoB: “And thanks a lot for the gold and frankincense, er, but don’t worry too much about the myrrh next time. All right?“) and one can possibly be coal. Santa may also bring a variety of gifts, although one may include coal. Advantage: Draw
The Three Kings have three of them. Santa flies solo with just some reindeer as backup… and who knows what “else”. Advantage: Three Kings
As you can see, when it comes to winter gift giving, the Three Kings are pretty much all that. I didn’t really know about their whole thing until spending a Christmas in Spain. While Santa has made some corporate inroads in recent years, the Kings still blast loud and large during holiday time with huge processions in any town of reasonable size in Spain. Obviously, the bigger the town, the bigger the event.
I happened to see the arrival of the Three Kings in Girona. This town of about 100,000 people puts on a hell of a show. It appears that each town tries to have a gimmick when it comes to their arrival parade. In Girona’s case, it’s fire. So, they have all these fireworks, along with fire breathers going along the route. It’s a good show, but I think that part is mainly for the adults as the kids could give a rip about anything except handing their letter of what they want to the Three Kings.
This is where the similarities to Santa Claus in the US start to pop up. The Three Kings are the guys who do all the gift delivering, except that instead of December 25th, they do it on the night of January 5th with the kids opening January 6th (obviously a smarter date as the Kings didn’t pop in at the same time Mary was in labor and showed up later, but this doesn’t work in the US for financial year-end receipts.) To let the Kings know what they want, the kids write letters to them. Unlike in the US where we mail these to the “North Pole”, the kids of Spain learn early on to distrust their national postal system and have to hand deliver them when the Three Kings arrive on the night of the 5th. And damn, those kids are hyped up. Remember how kids are with all things Santa? Take that and multiply it by three. The worst part is that the parade is usually from about 6-8 at night, so all the kids have had a nice chocolate for merienda and are super pumped up on sugar. This girl sitting next to me in the parade ran in to the street at least 20 times to check if the Kings were coming so that she could hand them her letter.
So, the Kings come by and finish their procession, they arrive at the main town square, are welcomed by the mayor (or president of Catalonia as is the case in Barcelona), give a speech and then the kids go home to drive their parents crazy for the rest of the evening. Once they’re finally asleep the parents put out the presents, the kids wake up super early in the morning (maybe at all of 7 here in Spain) and unwrap the gifts. So, while you can see it’s a different tradition from the US, it shares a good number of things in common, except Santa and why should they have him when the Three Kings can beat his ass any day of the week?