For the past few years, we’ve been to our village’s Reyes Magos procession. For the uninitiated, this is when the Three Kings ride into town on the afternoon of 5 January – Melchor, Baltazar and Gaspar might arrive by boat, helicopter or camel, depending on the geographical situation of the town or city where you’re watching them, and the economic health of its town hall and main sponsors.
Reyes is the most exciting night of the year for children, since the next day is when they get their presents. (Some do Father Christmas too, or even instead, but Reyes is the biggie.) As well as signalling the end of the Christmas period (sniff), it’s also the first big event of the year. A last chance for people to enjoy themselves before getting back to work, and the long slog ahead until the next holiday – in these parts, Andalucia Day on 28 February.
The Reyes then process around the streets, on floats decorated in gold and silver, with blacked-up page boys and girls (and bedouin riding horses if you’re in a bigger locality). In addition to the Reyes, there are queens or princesses - Cinderella, La Estrella, and various other young (and not-so-young) ladies dressed up in fairytale costumes of dresses with billowing skirts and sparkly accoutrements. You also get the popular TV characters of the day; Spongebob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer; more traditional figures, such as pirates and Hansel and Gretl; and cultural or historical-themed floats, such as Romans, Egyptians, Mayans, or Japanese.
These carrozas are decked out with temples, chariots and palaces, as appropriate, with wonderful decorations and costumes, respledent with glittery, shiny surfaces and elaborate outfits and make-up – the whole spectacle is wonderful food for children’s imaginations, as they gaze spellbound. It took an hour for our cabalgata to go past – a perfect amount of time to be on your feet, watching your own children, snapping away with the camera, oohing and aahing at the sights passing before you.
As they pass the crowds, these be-costumed ones on high toss down to the hopeful handfuls of boiled sweets. I don’t know if you ever been hit by said confectionery item travelling through the air at speed, but I can tell you: it hurts. Hands are held outstretched, entreating, as if to seek the blessing of a saint or virgin statue, accompanied by the pleading, singsong call of “Melchor/Cenicienta/Princesa, danos carame-los“. Small toys are also lobbed into the waiting masses. My daughter adores sweets, but thankfully she was safely out of reach, on her dad’s shoulders to get a better view (although also in direct path of flying caramelos).
Thus far – since moving out to the suburban countryside - our family has stuck with the little local cabalgata (procession) because it’s easy to park, we know people, and you have no problem getting a good view of the carrozas (floats), or bagging table in a cafe for a warming Cola Cao. This year, we decided to move up a gear, and braved the main cabalgata of Seville, which is bigger in every way – more floats (33, as opposed to seven or so in the village parade), fancier decor, more people, more sweets.
Those sweets not caught never last long on the ground – they are grabbed by nimble-fingered children and supple-jointed grannies alike. But in Seville, they were even quicker off the mark – if you’re weren’t bending down in a split-second, forget it – they were all gone. Women who were a good 20 years older than me (and much more smartly dressed), thought nothing of crouching or kneeling to comb the pavement for stray caramelos. The pavement is normally off-limits – “Caca!” is the cry when kids touch anything on the ground. The good news for the clean-up afterwards is that very few sticky messes are left, thanks to the efficiency of Spanish families.
As well as being rubbish at the seasonal Spanish sport of “sweet grab” – sweeping little plastic-wrapped goodies off the floor – when competing with young and old pretenders alike, I am also hopeless at trying to catch the airborne missiles – I instinctively shy away from hard objects flying towards my face, thanks to painful experiences playing lacrosse at school, and a tennis ball smashing my glasses after a volley went badly wrong. No, I wasn’t a leading sports star at school.
My son collected an enormous amount of sticky teeth-rotters – all for his sister, since he doesn’t eat them himself (says delighted, chocolate-loving mother-with-a-mouthful-of-fillings, breathing a sigh of relief). The bag, which must weigh a good few kilos, is shut away safely in a cupboard, and has – thus far – been mercifully forgotten by my sweet-toothed daughter. There it shall stay, out of sight, until needed for bribery purposes (in extreme circumstances only, rest assured).
Postscript: this year, a six-year-old boy (the same age as my son) was killed in the Malaga Reyes procession, when he dived under a carroza to retrieve a sweet. A horrible, tragic event which hopefully will never be repeated; security measures are being examined and will, hopefully, be strengthened to avoid a repeat of such a senseless loss.