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Friday, January 9, 2015

Forget Santa, the Three Kings are Coming to Town

Synopsis: So I had been hearing quite a bit about Three Kings Day, here in Spain, and not really understanding what it entailed. I knew the three kings were the three wise men from the Bible, and that was about all I knew of the tradition. I didn't realize there was an entire two-day tradition that went along with the celebration. But, I am always ready to find out, which is exactly what I did.

Night of January 5
We bundle up to go watch the cabalgata de los tres reyes, or parade of the Three Kings. When we arrive, there are already hordes of people lining both sides of the street for about 750m. There are drummers and bands playing music when we arrive, as well as different organizations, dressed in costumes, marching along the street. There are flag twirlers from Italy who are really good, doing tricks with their flags. Then, we hear a loud boom, and a one-minute fireworks display can be seen in the sky.

The parade continues, as real camels pass by, followed by the first float, which has a man and woman on it directing the chants of the children, who call out "Melchor, Gaspar, Baltasar", the names of the three kings. The first king, Melchor shows up on a giant turtle. He and his helpers are throwing candy into the crowd. Next is Gaspar, who is on a giant swan, and he and his helpers are also throwing out candy. The last king, Baltasar, has a float with a giant jaguar, but he is not on top, but rather on the street and greeting people up close and personal. His float is followed by fire twirlers, firefighters, and the end of the parade.

Then to dinner with Emilio's family around 9:30pm. I get to meet his parents, a lovely Peruvian woman and a well-versed-in-life Spanish man, both of whom are very friendly. Also, two of his sisters and their husbands and children attend. One big happy family. We eat dinner around 10:30pm. This is followed by roscón, a gigantic donut with cream filling, fruit on top, with a king inside - for the person who will have great luck for the year, and a bean inside - for the person who has to buy next year's roscón. We follow up a great meal with a very-typical-to-Navarra drink of Basarana, a sweet liquor. After lots of great conversation and food, we head home.

Before we go to bed, I am instructed to leave my shoes under the tree so one of the three kings can fill them with gifts. I wish I had bigger shoes.

Thoughts: It's worth mentioning, like the interesting holiday tradition with Zwarte Pete in Holland, Baltasar in the parade was a white man with black face paint on, since Baltasar was from Arabia or Northern Africa, and I guess they couldn't find a black guy to be in the parade. His helpers were also in black face, men and women.

I didn't even know the name of the three kings. Part of the tradition was explained to me, that you write a letter to your favorite king and ask for what you want them to bring you, and on January 6, it may be in your shoes that you left under the tree. Also, other people can write on your behalf.

The legions of people lined up for the parade

A nativity float

Those were some big balloons

Some of the family enjoying the cabalgata

Best flag twirlers ever

Melchor and his big turtle

I was attacked by one of Gaspar's helpers

Baltasar waving to the crowd

Even the firefighters were festive

Dinner at Emilio's parent's home

I got the bean, so I have to get a job so I can buy next year's roscón

Morning of January 6
Baltasar works fast, as I just found out who he was last night, and he still was able to bring me some gifts! Under the christmas tree, on top of, and inside my shoes, are presents. Similar to the Christmas morning tradition, we each take turns opening our presents. Emilio and Tatun are quite fortunate to have lots of family living nearby, as the kings have also dropped off presents at their relatives' houses for them. Que suerte!

Everyone's shoes under the tree with gifts

"I'm so excited!"

The whole family enjoying the morning

Guess who can see underwater now? Yup, this guy.

"Just what I wanted!"

Not part of the tradition, but we went bike riding anyway

Final thoughts: I love discovering new holiday traditions, especially those linked to the ones I already know and/or celebrate, and being able to experience them first hand. Three Kings Day in Spain is definitely worth experiencing at least once in your life. I have since researched the tradition and its origins, and like many other traditions we have today, it has a variety of origins and meanings and influences, that give us what we have today. Plus, I had no idea there were places in America that celebrated the same, or a similar, tradition. I actually learned more about what I thought I already knew.

I actually just (like right now) read in the paper about 5,000 signatures being signed to prevent the black face paint on Baltasar in the parade this year. And the article even mentioned Black Pete, just like me! I should write for the Navarra newspaper...but in English.

Location: Pamplona, Navarre, Spain


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