If you are unlucky enough to come from the UK, or perhaps some other bland ultra-“Western” country, your Christmas probably ends the minute the clock chimes midnight on the 25th, whereby you groggily go to bed early and set your alarm so you can hit the Boxing Day sales. Meanwhile, across the entire nation, all festive cheer immediately vanishes, passers-by grumble and swear, shop attendants get lippy and public officials become morose and perfunctory once one.
For Spain (and indeed Catalonia) however Christmas is much more about romance than rebajas, and right here in Barcelona you get a full 12 days of festive fun, culminating in the Epiphany on the 6th January, which for non-church-goers out there is the very day the Three Kings are said to have arrived at Jesus’ manger bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Appropriately enough, it’s on this day that Spaniards and Catalans exchange presents, making it a far more interesting date than Christmas itself – at least if you’re a Spanish kid waiting for the latest version of Call of Duty on Xbox.
The eve of Epiphany is also a particularly charming time to be in Spain because in many cities you’ll get to see a lively carnival-esque parade around town of floats, led by none other than the Three Kings themselves. In Barcelona this festival is given a fun twist as the Wise Men actually arrive from their exotic kingdoms via boat… naturally I was keen to check this out and went down to Moll de la Fusta to investigate. Sure enough at 5pm sharp on the 5th January, a vast and archaic vessel (the sort Christopher Columbus might have chartered… and indeed he has a good view of proceedings as this all takes at the port not far beneath his famous statue at the bottom of La Rambla), sweeps into view as the crowds huddle up to the railing to wave back at their royal visitors. It’s quite a cute site, with hundreds of toddlers sitting on their dads’ shoulders to get a view of the Magi. (Although my idealistic notion of Spain/Catalonia as the home of free spirited romance was dented by the cheap cardboard crowns sponsored by Samsung!). Next there were speeches by some old Catalan dude and the chief King (I’ve no idea which of the three he was supposed to be though!), which were wasted on my linguistically-limited ears, before the crowds were parted and the Wise Men walked between two barriers shaking hands with wide-eyed children and generally looking pretty badass in some chic zero-BC robes. One fun thing to observe was the kids, aided by their parents, handing their Christmas wishlists to the Kings and their numerous helpers, presumably to be passed on to Santa later (talk about short notice – they have to be delivered that night! – but seems like Papa Noel still has a better logistics set up than Amazon. It’s all about the reindeer and elves).
Anyhow after the initial boat landing, The Three Kings Parade parade starts proper (around 18:30) in a route that starts at the port then heads to Parc de la Ciutadella, up Via Laitena, and then back along Carrer Sepulveda all the way to Placa Espanya. As I’d already received my pressies back in London on the 25th I didn’t hang around for the calvacade, but if it’s sweets you’re after this is when to arrive as they apparently handed out by the bucketload!
For more about traditions in Spain on the day of Epiphany itself (6th Jan) check out this article in the Spain Scoop.