Los Tres Reyes Magos- The Three Kings

By Lucy Hardwicke

As you walk down Calle Real, the main street of Estepona on the evening of the 5th of January, you can feel the excitement in the air. This is the Spanish Christmas Eve. The town is bustling with people doing last minute shopping and the children are dressed in their best clothes. Nearly every person is holding a Roscon de Reyes, a ring-shaped cake filled with dried fruit and for one lucky person, a pottery king, which brings you luck for the rest of the year. As the streets fill, the children get more excited - the three kings are coming soon. This is a special procession, Cabalgata Los Reyes. Every town in Spain, however small, will have this procession and it is a spectacle not to be missed. The kings arrive in different ways in different towns, in Malaga they often arrive by boat, they can be seen skiing in the Sierra Nevada, sometimes they arrive by donkey, camel or horse. The event is also televised.

Before the cavalcade arrives, the sounds of drumming and distant music can be heard, the children can now barely contain themselves, as they know what is coming, the procession is winding its way through the streets. The procession consists of the three Kings, Baltasar (legend has it, that he brings the gifts), Gaspar, Melchor and their attendants. Each king has his own float, which is decorated in the most luxurious of fashions. They usually have a throne and a huge wild animal; I have seen life-size model tigers and elephants. The Kings are dressed as if the have just come from the orient with turbans, gold trousers, sparkly waistcoats, blackened faces and full length beards. The floats are absolutely spectacular, big, bold and oozing the Orient. No money or effort is spared in the decoration. The part of the procession that everyone loves the most is that each float is loaded down with Caramelos, sweets.

The kings and their attendants throw these sweets in large handfuls into the eagerly awaiting crowd. There is a near riot; it is every man for himself. Don’t be polite, and expect to be rugby tackled by 5 foot nothing old ladies. The crowd goes wild grabbing handfuls of sweets and putting them into carrier bags and those who are really greedy bring upturned umbrellas. It is quite an energetic pursuit and it's not for the faint hearted. On our first procession we managed to get about 3 sweets and two of those were from a sympathetic policeman. Last year, however, we were more prepared and my daughter discovered the joys of grappling about in the gutter with the other little ones. The amazing thing is she is not really keen on the sweets but it is all such fun and she doesn’t even mind being hit on the head a few times by the sugar missiles.

There is also a whole range of performers in the procession, fire-eaters, people on stilts, jugglers, bands etc. Most people watch the procession and then run through the back streets to get ahead of it and position themselves for some more sweet catching. After the procession the children go to a small plaza and line up to have their photo taken with the kings and post their Christmas wish list. There is a real family atmosphere and the evening is usually finished off with a few drinks at a street bar and often live music.

Now the children excitedly go home to leave out a shoe for the three kings and await the presents of the next morning. They may leave a little food for the camels, maybe a carrot or some hay and some leave a little food for the kings. The children that they have been good all year will receive lots of presents and they know that if they haven’t, they will receive a bag of coal . They must be asleep when the kings’ come or else their house will be missed out. While the children toss and turn to get to sleep, elsewhere their parents are frantically wrapping presents in anticipation of the magical day to come.

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