Being a volunteer in a foreign country during the Christmas holidays is an opportunity for embarrassing moments and awkward silences if one is unfamiliar with the local traditions. I was not spared of such a moment when I discovered that my hand-made, filled with candy, quotes and coupons for movie nights and pizza nights caja de cariño (Care Box), which I had so carefully planned to give my flat mate on Christmas Eve, was meant to be received next year! Yes, you read that right. Next year.
Spain is one of the few countries in which the Christmas climax, the moment people get the big gifts, is on the night of 5th of January. This magical night is when kids all over Spain expect the three Kings to visit their homes, and leave behind the much desired toys and sweets. The Event is celebrated by the Spanish society with parades throughout the day of 5th, opportunities for children to see the Three Kings in Person and receive candies from atop the glowing and sparkling parade cars.
Not much different to St Nicolau in my home country, Romania, which is celebrated on the 5th of December, children in Spain prepare for the visit of the Kings by putting their best shoes next to the door, but also by having hay and sweets close by to allure the Kings to make a stop with their camels in their house. The following morning boys and girls wake up to find their presents in their shoes and the candy all gone. Although I gave my presents before the 5th of January because of an acute lack of the mature patience that a 23 years old should have, I made sure I knew my history before going with my friends to see the Parade.
The historical background refers to the event known as Epiphany, the visit of the three wise men to the newly born Jesus bearing gifts for him. The day is also the 12th day of Christmas, a reference we all know from different versions of the classic Christmas carol. As important as the gifts is the traditional food of the day, a round sweet bread adorned with fruit which is called Roscón de Reyes. The importance of this is also revealed by the fact that it is common on Spanish TV channels to see reporters talk to different bread makers about favorite Roscon recipes and variations.
Most extraordinarily, the parades which take place on the 5th of January in cities all over Spain have been in place since 1885, when the government called for a special way of celebrating Los Reyes Magos. This highly anticipated events are described as magical: “the Three Wise Men make their spectacular entry into Alcoy, riding camels and loaded with presents. They ride through the streets of the town, following “antorcheros” (torch bearers) who light up their way. The atmosphere fills with Christmas carols, and the royal pages (“els negres”) hand over their presents to the children. They use wooden stepladders to climb up to the balconies and windows of the houses, filling this unique night with magic.” (htt2)
These being said, I wish all fellow volunteers an amazing new year, and I will come back with news about how the magic of the parade made me believe again in Santa, or , in this case, The three kings.