The Spectacular Three Kings Parade

The Three Kings Parade is the main and final event during Christmas in Spain.

The tradition comes from the Three Wise Men (or Kings) who gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus and on their return journey handed out gifts to children. The Three Kings’ arrival is celebrated on the 5th January with a grand parade. The following day children receive their presents and it is also a public holiday. The Kings´ arrival varies depending on which part of Spain you are in. In Barcelona they arrive by sea, whereas they are a bit more daring in the village of Alarilla, in Guadalajara, where they arrive by paraglider!

Similar to Santa Claus, children write letters to the Three Kings requesting toys and presents. In Barcelona they either give the letter to the Kings when they arrive on the 5th or hand them to the “royal” mailmen a few days before, who can be found in certain spots around the city. You can even visit the toy factory where they make the toys for the children in the run up to the big event at Fàbrica de Creació Fabra i Coats.

On the night of the 5th January, the children lay out a few pastries for the Kings and water for their camels or horses. Slightly less extravagant than Santa’s mince pies and sherry. Perhaps that’s why Santa is on the heavier side.

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Madrid has seen some controversy over the Three Kings Parade, as previously a city councillor was blacked up to play the role of Balthazar. They have recently stopped this and a black person now rightfully takes this role. Some councils in Madrid have also decided to place a woman as one of the Three Kings. This has led to opposition from some conservative politicians remarking that this is destroying Christmas traditions and echoing what Reverend Lovejoy’s Wife from The Simpsons often asked “Please think of the children, why won’t someone please think of the children?!”

I have never been to a Three Kings Parade before so I was very excited to see it in Barcelona! It is the city’s biggest parade with around 1300 people participating, including volunteers and more than 400 students from dance, theatre and circus schools across Barcelona.

As I made my way to Via Laietana, I was met with a crowd of people lining the entire street. Those well-prepared for the event had come with ladders, or had found themselves a spot perched on window ledges or standing on benches and statues. Every possible viewpoint was filled. I managed to squeeze into a corner to get a good view. The atmosphere was charged with anticipation as many children were bursting with excitement to see the Three Kings.

First came the sound of drums in the distance. A flash of light was seen and something moving. Oh. Just police vehicles driving past to clear the path. Then the start of the parade as Royal horsemen marched past waving to the crowd.  These were closely followed by a group of dancing letters and the Royal Post working away to get the letters to the Three Kings. Postmen came to the crowd to collect children’s letters with long nets and people cheered as one managed to collect one from a nearby balcony.

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In between seeing the Three Kings on their majestic floats, dancers with bizarre and fantastical costumes passed by with each group based on different themes such as stars, toys and “I really have no idea what that is, but it looks good”. At times I felt like I was watching part of the parade from Disney’s Aladdin, half expecting Prince Ali to show up with sixty elephants and ninety-five white Persian monkeys. At other times, it felt like some strange and downright scary dream. See below for a weird baby’s dummy thing:

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You can watch the whole parade on TV and be guaranteed a good view but you’d miss out on the great atmosphere. For me, one of the main highlights was the crowd. The adults seemed to be enjoying it more than the kids, as they shouted back at the characters from the floats and cheered enthusiastically. Maybe in part helped by a few beers, but nonetheless making it a fun event. If you’re in Barcelona during the Christmas and New Year period, make sure you don’t miss this!

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