Just when I thought Christmas and the holiday season was over, it sprang back in full force today with Día de los Reyes Magos – Three Kings Day, Twelfth Night, Epiphany, or, as RF calls it, Little Christmas. In Spain, Christmas is not the main gift-giving holiday that it is in the U.S. and other places. Instead, Spanish children eagerly await the arrival of Kings Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthasar who bear gifts, just as they did for the baby Jesus.
There are many festivities leading up to the main event, all centered around children. We have happened upon a couple of different weekend Hola Nadal! family fairs at Plaça de Catalunya featuring games, activities, and live performances. This past weekend, children could deliver their letters to the Kings, much like letters to Santa, with their gift wish lists. I am not at all certain why, but this event was presided over by a giant illuminated bird. Beautiful, but kind of odd – please comment if you know the origins of this one!
On January 5th, many cities throughout Spain recreate the arrival of the Three Kings with elaborate parades. In Barcelona, there are actually a number of smaller parades hosted by the various neighborhoods. In the main celebration, the Kings arrive by boat and are welcomed at a large ceremony in the port. City officials and King Melchor give speeches to launch the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos – Three Kings Parade. An estimated half-million people line the 5km route from the Parc de la Ciutatdella to the Magic Fountain near Plaça d’Espanya.
The parade itself is said to stretch for 1km, with dancers, actors, and musicians in the streets and on various themed floats. Children have another opportunity to hand in their letters, and the smaller tots can hand in their pacifiers (xumets) to the King’s Xumeters. I will note that we saw lots of letters, and not a single child giving up their xumet!
The route passed just one block behind our building near the final destination. I actually watched much of the early portion on television to see what all the hubbub was about before we agreed that we should head out and join the crowds ourselves. Families were still shopping at the Gran Via Market when we left, and flowing towards Carrer de Sepulveda in droves. It’s a tradition to bring ladders for the children to stand on, but the floats were quite easy to see, even when many people deep like we were.
FOUR TONS! of candy that were sprayed into the crowds. Children seemed to really delight in the Three Kings traditions, singing songs and enthusiastically answering the many inquiries about good behavior from parade performers. Retailers remained open to capture any last-minute shoppers leaving the parade, and local restaurants set up special window stands with one or two offerings for grabbing dinner or a snack on the way home.
Back at our apartment, we partook of the Tortells de Reis/Roscón de Reyes tradition that is almost identical to the King Cake of Mardi Gras in New Orleans – though, I think the cake itself is even tastier. Each ring hides a trinket and a fava bean. Some businesses offer cakes with the lure of possibly finding very fancy trinkets inside, things like diamonds and large checks. I found a little King Balthasar in ours! Which, hopefully, leaves the bean for RF who will then be responsible for purchasing next year’s cake.
Tomorrow is a national holiday and, I guess, it will mark the official end of the holiday season. It will also close out our time in Barcelona. We pick up our car first thing and head to the Costa Blanca. New Year, new adventures! Stay tuned…