Growing up, I remember reading a story in school entitled The Gift of the Magi. It was about the 3 wise men, or kings, who visited the baby Christ in the manger where he was born, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In Spain, this is a big deal. Three Kings’ Day, or Epiphany, as it is more popularly known, is a public holiday. The previous night is celebrated by way of a massive parade in most cities and towns. In Barcelona, the Magi arrive by sea, in other cities it is not uncommon to see them arrive by airplane or helicopter. The Honey Bee and I really enjoy attending the parade, and not just for the tons of free candy (more on that later). You see the kings are more or less the equivalent of Santa Claus in Spain. Children write letters to the kings asking for gifts. It is not uncommon to see them in the mall asking children whether they’ve been naughty or nice. You get the general idea.
The Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (Kings’ Parade) is a grand affair with a lot of floats and a couple of thousand active participants. Each king has his own float and armada of follower floats all themed based on where that king hails from. There are numerous dance troops all dressed in themed clothing dancing to thematic tunes belted out from the larger speakers also moving with the parade. Each king is also accompanied by numerous messengers that entertainingly move alongside, either on foot, on stilts, or on roller skates suspending large nets (sort of like butterfly nets) that hang over the 10 people thick crowds allowing children to give their letters to the kings.
Other highlights include beautiful balloons of all types, some shaped like massive dolphins and dragons, and others like extra-large candy. To top it all off, the parade ends with massive trucks and double-decker buses raining down insane amounts of candy on the crowd through the use of air cannons. It never ceases to entertain watching the children trying to grab as much candy as they can, accompanied by parents scrambling to ensure their kids get enough. The next day, if the children have been good, they receive what they had asked for in their letters.
Like any other year, this year’s parades throughout the country were not without controversy. The most interesting ones include:
- In some places, for the first time King Balthazar was played by a non-caucasian, instead of a caucasian with a painted face
- For some parades, women dressed up as men to play the role of the kings
- Some towns decided not to use animals for the parades
- A town well-known for its food chose to have chefs play the role of the kings
- Budget cuts in Barcelona resulted in less candy being distributed than previous years
From start to finish the main Barcelona parade probably lasted over 3 hours, weaving through the streets of Barcelona. Also worth pointing out is that, within each city, there are numerous smaller and less spectacular parades that run through their respective neighborhoods.
Feliz día de los reyes!