What's always seemed particularly strange as a non-native is that kids have to wait until the end of the school holidays to receive their presents...
€Epiphany? Kings' Day (surely with the plural apostrophe)? Three Kings' Day? Three Wise Men's Day (let's not forget that in the English version Jesus was visited by wise men rather than kings on his birth)? It's always been hard to know what to call January 6th in English if you're a Britalan, mainly because it's not celebrated as a holiday in my native culture.
What's always seemed particularly strange as a non-native is that kids have to wait until the end of the school holidays to receive their presents, meaning that they only have that day and the following one to play with them before going back to school (this year they had the weekend, of course), as opposed to receiving presents on 25th December and then having the whole holiday to play with them. However, I'm not here to question tradition, but rather highlight cultural differences, and the Reis celebration is surely one of them.
I can't think of any celebration in my own (English) culture that brings everyone out onto the streets together in a public act of celebration. New Year's Eve doesn't count, because kids are tucked up in bed. Perhaps a Royal coronation, jubilee, marriage or some such other Royal event, which is the cause for parties and people sitting side by side at long tables in the street. But of course, firstly that doesn't happen every year (thank God), and secondly, those anti-royalists among us wouldn't see it as a particularly attractive proposition, especially with all the jingoistic waving of Union Jacks and public declarations of affection for the sovereign and her family.
So what is Reis to me? On the cynical side, as the grouch in me would point out, it's standing in the cold for hours waiting for some old guys to pass by towing a bunch of empty cardboard boxes while everyone sings songs which have strangely changing and yet familiar tunes, “Visca els tres reis de l'Orient…” seems to me to blend perfectly with the cagatió tune “Tió, tió, caga turró…” of December 24th.
On the positive side, it's a time for sharing with the family where everyone comes together and exchanges gifts, making it comparable with my native culture's Christmas in that sense. What makes it different, as mentioned above, is that it's a time when the entire local community comes out onto the street to celebrate a tradition with children, adults and the elderly, every generation basically, all sharing the children's seasonal thrill together.
I suppose you could argue that there is also that community side to it if you are a churchgoer in my native culture, but then only with those who share your religion, rather than just everyone.
Perhaps the most important difference is the sheer reality of it: as a kid here you get to see the kings actually bringing the pressies, rather than having to imagine Father Christmas (OK, for you Americans, Santa Claus) squeezing his sizeable behind down all those, especially when you haven't even got one.