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Sunday January 6, 2013

When Barbies, kings, giants and angels stormed Palma

In my local plaça yesterday a group of young children sat excitedly discussing what they hoped the Three Kings –Los Reyes Magos- would be bringing them later that night. While in the UK Christmas pretty much wraps up after New Year’s Day, here in Spain, the biggest event of the Christmas calendar is yet to come: the arrival of the Magi on the evening of 5, January.

An angel takes the lead at the Three Kings parade in Palma

Ever since moving to Majorca more than a decade ago, we have celebrated this magical event in a nearby village with Majorcan friends. From an early age my son and his chums would gather in the plaça to witness the much anticipated arrival by donkey of Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar accompanied by dancing elves and mystical creatures who would throw sweets into the crowds. The kings were played by villagers adopting preposterous costumes and heavy disguises which added to the general merriment of the occasion. In fact it became quite a sport to guess the identity of a particular king before anyone else.

Barbies gather by their float during the Three Kings event in Palma

In advance of the event we parents would proffer wrapped presents for our offspring to the mayor so that when the kings were seated on the makeshift stage in the plaça, they could perform a roll call, inviting children up one by one to receive a designated gift. None of the starry-eyed infants had a clue that their parents were complicit in the arrangement and there would be squeals of delight as they received hugs from the kings and carried off a brightly wrapped present. Traditionally, the three kings are supposed to leave gifts for youngsters at their homes so that they can be discovered on the morning of the 6th-the Feast of Epiphany.

Now that my son is a teenager, the festival no longer holds quite the same appeal although last night all that changed when we decided for the first time to witness the event in Palma. Locals were surprised that we were abandoning the valley, most admitting that they had never seen the magnificent annual parade in the Capital and so were eager for a full report after the extravaganza.

On arrival in Palma just before dusk we were dazzled by the bright lights, fireworks and sheer density of the crowds. Policemen blew whistles and heavy, slow moving traffic was diverted away from the port in anticipation of the arrival of the Magi by boat. And then before we knew it a gun had sounded, a siren wailed and the crowds roared with delight as the kings stepped off an exotic vessel and were led to their individual mobile thrones. Float upon glorious float came into view, some bizarre and surreal, others ethereal and spectacular. There were comical ones too such as that filled with a flurry of girls dressed as Barbies and another with dancing firemen. Giant peasant figures gegants towered above the spectators filling every inch of pavement along the long and circuitous route to the town hall. Sweets rained down on us like hailstones from every passing float, so much so that I had to shake them out of my hair and clothes.

Brightly lit street stalls were doing a roaring trade in churros, doughnut strips coated in sugar, and the traditional roscones, sweetbread shaped into a large doughnut ring and covered in candied fruit and often filled with chocolate, custard or cream. Children are encouraged to search the roscones for the tiny plastic figure hidden inside-an indication of good luck for the year to come.

At the end of the evening –and in effect the end of the Christmas festivities- we joined the happy but foot weary throng heading out of the Capital by car. The Spanish certainly know how to have a good time despite economic gloom. Let’s just hope that the afterglow from this deliriously happy festival full of goodwill and cheer fills a beleaguered nation with hope in the dawn of a new year.

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