We are back in Valencia, and like most people I know back home, we brought the plague with us. The flu is raging there. But we arranged to have seats at the big 3 Kings parade so we braved the cold and dove into the fray down near the Plaza de Ayunamiento – town square.
In the US we are all over the Santa thing. Reindeer. The North Pole. Elves. But in one glorious night it’s all over. As kids we got another week of winter break and then it was right back to school after New Years. Here in Spain it’s not like that at all.
Here the song of The Twelve Days of Christmas comes back as a handy little guide to what the season of the nativity is all about. Kind of like those School House Rock songs from Saturday Morning cartoons as a kid. They still enable me to remember the pre-amble of the Constitution and how bills pass through Congress. Our civics education in the US being so lacking we require cartoons to imprint it on our brains. But we won’t go there today.
Here – as in so many other countries around the world – gifts giving isn’t so focused on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The children of Spain are laser focused on Twelfth night or Epiphany Eve, and then King’s day. This is the day when the 3 Kings who visited Jesus to bring him Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh show up with their chests full of presents for all the children of the city.
The malls have lines – not to sit on Santa’s lap – but to sit on the laps of the Magi to ask for gifts. Children don’t write letters to Santa. They write letters to the Magi who will bring them what they desire. Let’s face it – the Maji have a proven track record of delivery. At the parade, the letters were collected by special people on the route and they were all marked ‘Urgente’ in a bold adult hand.
And in Valencia they’ll leave their shoes by the door with food and drink for the Magi and their camels hoping for what they asked for. The 3 kings are called Gaspar, Melchoir and Balthazar. And they are pretty much an old white guy in a long white beard. Then a younger white guy in a dark beard. And then an Africa guy who’s in his 20’s. I heard they’re supposed to represent the ages of a man’s life. But they also represent the continents of Asia (the Oriente in Magi parlance), Africa and Europe.
Float after float went by with kids and adults on them throwing candy by the barrel. Children brought bags from home to scoop it all up. Some threw so hard it hit us in the head with force. The Valencia Futbol Club threw Adidas socks and I got Emilie a pair. The balls were a big draw in between handfuls of projectiles of candy. But I was most impressed that the push we’ve seen on tv for recycling in the Communidad de Valencia played a big role. Very smart in getting kids on board with cutting back on waste and getting their parents to recycle. They were every where in the parade and I got a new composting bin and recycling bags that I filled with candy. I’m not immune from gather free 🍭
Like any major Spanish procession, there seems to be the heroes (the magi) and the bad guys (the Romans). In this case it’s Herod who tries to steal the children’s candy while taunting the crowd walking the parade route – accompanied by his Roman henchmen. It’s all pantomime and the crowd loves it, booing loudly and giving the man the thumbs down. He played it up and the children cheered when a 3 year old fended him off.
The 3 Kings start the night by coming ashore at the port at 5pm. Then they’re escorted by the police to the parade starting grounds at Alameda. A helicopter records their progress on tv. Some of the floats are amazing feats of engineering. Dragons. An Automaton Ballerina. A stained glass Peacock. Stilt walkers and acrobats.
Finally, the 3 kings will arrive at the city hall in the Auynamiento, where they will be received like, well, Kings to the cheers of the waiting throngs of children. They will proceed to the balcony where they will expound on a few old chestnuts – ‘Be good children.’ ‘Obey your parents.’ ‘Clean your room and eat your veggies.’ Then they’ll sit on thrones in a room inside where the children file in to receive gifts before heading home to put out their shoes.
Today, King’s cake (Rosca de Reyes) will be eaten. This is a special cake that contains fruit and cream and a coin. Whomever gets the coin has luck for the rest of the year. We always did something similar on New Years with our kids.
It’s so different than what we’re used to in the US, so watching these kids excitement a full 2 weeks after our Christmas is pretty cool. Between US kids and Spanish kids, I think children here got the better deal.
And after all the stores being open on a Sunday yesterday, I lament one thing about the end of the holiday season here. The clock starts over for the year, due to laws that went into effect in 2019, and now we’ll have to wait until summer for an open grocery store on a Sunday – they only allow it for the last half of the year. Even the Valencians I know hate it.
And now it’s only 53 days until the season of Fallas kicks off. Yay! We’ll just have to rest up until then.