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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings) Bearing Gifts

Arrival of the King

The real high-spot of the holiday season in Spain and the Canary Islands is when the gifts arrive with Los Reyes Magos - The Three Kings - (this seems logical, if you follow the original story) on their camels. In case you've forgotten the three are:

  • Melchor: An old man with a white beard. His gift to Jesus is gold, representing his royalty.
  • Gaspar: A swarthy skinned young man. His gift is incense, which represents Jesus' divinity.
  • Baltasar: A black man. His gift to Jesus is myrrh, which represents his suffering and future death.

On the night of January 5th, you should put water and straw out for the camels and leave your shoes in a prominent place in a main room before you go to bed, next to which The Kings will leave your gifts - if you've been good. If not, you may get coal instead!

(You can buy little sacks of black-dyed honeycomb candy for your little rogues.)

Their Majesties are received by Herod

Most towns have parades through the streets on the night of January 5, with the Three Wise Guys arriving from the Orient on their camels. They throw sweets into the crowd for the children of all ages. In Santa Cruz these popular characters can fill a football stadium, where these modern monarchs arrive by helicopter. In ports, such as Los Cristianos, the last leg of their journey from the Orient used to be on one of the inter-island ferries.

Their Cabalgata in Garachico, Tenerife, was slated to begin at 7 p.m. (yes, but where the "caravan" began, on foot, way up in the mountains) and carried on until after midnight. (Get there early for parking though.) Accompanied by the whole town's youth, many dressed as Roman soldiers - carrying out their duties VERY seriously indeed - Their Majesties are received by Herod at the entrance to the town by the Castle, before making progress along the main streets & culminating in a Regal Pageant in the town square.

Garachico Town Hall doubles as the Kings' Palace

Fireworks crackled, drummers drummed (loudly), a fanfare resounded to announce the arrival of the cavalcade ... As horses and camels speed into the arena - real close between the seating laid out for the audience! (Guess who had an aisle seat?)

After a live reenactment of the entire Christmas Story, complete with real live donkey, goats, sheep and even a human baby ... the Kings address the crowd from the palace Town Hall balcony, then take their thrones to begin dishing out gifts to a long list of kids, not just from Garachico, but from all over the island and even abroad.

Before that, the local children put on a show and, just to make sure this doesn't become an entirely spoilt "commercial venture", a film reminds us all of less fortunate kids in Africa, Asia, South America and other parts of the world. Us (so-called) grown-ups were way too tired to hang around right to the very end of the line.

The scene is set outside the Church of Los Angeles

Traditional to eat on January 6, is Roscón de Reyes, a "crown" or ring-shaped bread, decorated with "jewels" of glacé fruits, which contains surprise gifts and a supposedly unlucky bean somewhere inside.

The year's second largest Lottery, El Niño, is also drawn on this day. This creates a bit of excitement in the Canary Islands, because, historically, this draw has been more likely than the big Christmas Draw, El Gordo, to drop the odd decent prize on the islands.

With Epiphany being on January 6th, it seems that Spanish Christmas holidays go on forever, but this is THE BIG DAY when everyone will have time off to be with their family. Many in the tourist sector worked on Christmas Day.

Santa Claus, better known here as Papa Noel, is gaining popularity in Spain, appearing alongside Los Reyes Magos and he may bring a few presents on Christmas Eve - the justification is that it gives the kids more time to enjoy their new toys whilst they still have school holidays to amuse themselves in. The custom on the 6th is you get taken around to see what everyone got (with adults naturally feigning much surprise), which is great because you get to play with everyone's toys! Now I must go and get some straw ...

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