Christmas in Spain is filled with events, markets, celebrations, and decorations. The 8th of December (immaculate conception) is a national holiday and the 25th of December Caga Tio poops out gifts, but the biggest celebration is actually after the new year. On January 6th all of Spain celebrates Three Kings Day (known as the epiphany in the U.S.) and on the evening of the 5th they celebrate their arrival during the Three Kings Parade. The kings are the ones who brought gifts to baby Jesus and they're also the ones that bring gifts to children all over Spain. Their arrival is celebrated across the country with parades and parties and early bed times for the little ones. On December 5th it feels like all of Barcelona comes out to celebrate the arrival of the three kings at the Three Kings Parade. I knew little of what to expect other than crowds. Around 5PM, about an hour before the parade was set to begin, people already were filling the streets. Kids were laughing and playing, setting up soccer games, holding hot drinks, and huddling for warmth. By 6PM the streets and surrounding windows were packed. There were parents, young adults, teenagers, and children and all of the kids were carrying their letters to the three kings promising that they had been good this year and requesting special gifts.
Bear in mind, the parade follows a 3-mile course throughout the city, so with every square inch packed multiple people deep, there were hundreds of thousands of people in attendance. The parade began with a catalan speaking joker, a baker, and flying doves all riding in Barcelona taxis and a hop-on, hop-off bus. I was glad to see Barcelona resources being used well.
Following the doves was a talented drumline and a massive mechanical flying horse and rider.
There were stilts, what I think were astronomers, and a shooting star (I'm assuming this was the star above Bethlehem). Many of the characters were telling a story as they rode by, but unfortunately my Catalan is a little non-existent, so I had to piece together what I could.
All around children started asking parade attendants questions. The attendants would typically respond and point behind them. I was really excited for whatever they were waiting for. Following the star there were singing gingerbread babies with huge metal pacifiers around their necks. It wouldn't be a parade in Barcelona without some catalan weirdness.
Then came the moment all of the kids had been waiting for. No, no, it wasn't the kings (who's arrivals were in fact scattered throughout the parade), it was the float signifying the beginning of the letter drop. At this point the kids could hand their perfectly written, perfectly packaged, and perfectly decorated cards to attendants. These “kings helpers” would then drop them in the mail boxes. If the kids were too far away to actually hand their letters in, they could put them in one of the large nets that attendants used to reach the second story viewers. I should have known the youthful excitement was about presents :).
From here there were snake tamers, robots, amusement parks, and much more. I think this is the part of the story where kids imagine all of the gifts they will be receiving in the morning. This is just my best guess though since all of the narration was in Catalan.
Then came the “carbó” characters. These were the fun, devilish characters with soot on their faces warning the children of getting coal instead of gifts. They really got the crowd going!
Once the mischievous characters had passed, things transitioned to a softer, nutcracker-like story. There were a sort of sugar plum fairies (including a creepy robot one), more mail boxes for the kids, and the quintessential “kids not wanting to go to sleep” scene.
Then dreams of candy were fulfilled with showers of real candy! Yes, showers. No, that's not confetti, that's candy being shot into the air to fall on top of the crowd. For the record, these were not tootsie rolls, these were the hard candies that your grandma used to give you.
After the grand finale (over an hour after the parade's start), many follow the parade to its end at Plaza España while others go home to prepare. They must leave out food for the kings and water for their camels so that they can be nourished enough to leave great presents.
Now, any good parent knows that they should have presents on hand should the kings happen to miss their house. Need to know where to pick up gifts for Three Kings Day? The Three Kings Fair (aka St Thomas and Kings fair and Twelfth Night Fair) is yet another Christmas market in Barcelona from Dec. 18th to Jan. 6th. Located on Gran Via de las Cortes Catalanes just a few blocks off of Plaza Catalunya, it's 6 blocks long with hundreds of stalls running the length of the ramblas on both sides of the street. There you can pick up Christmas Candy (fake coal), toys, stuffed animals, and even some gifts suitable for adults like jewelry, leather, and wood products.
Catalonia, you never cease to entertain and you fulfilled your promise yet again at the Three Kings Parade. Feels good to be back on European soil.
P.S. Starbucks and Vodaphone are not sponsors of this article... but on second thought, maybe I should ask them to be.