On 6 January the Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men, or Three Kings) visit towns and villages throughout Spain, arriving by helicopter, boat, elephant or camel, depending on the extent of each ayuntamiento (town hall)’s budget deficit. This is the biggest day of the year for Spanish children – Santa Claus is also celebrated, so the lucky little tinkers get a double dose of presents, and us parents get a double whammy on our wallets – but Reyes is the biggie.
But before the day itself, there is another important event: the arrival of the Reyes Magos’ cartero/a (postperson), to collect letters from the children. S/he is accompanied by a number of colourfully attired pajes (attendants).
We had the good fortune to stumble upon this happy pageant on the way back from a family lunch in the local town this afternoon – our first day back from Christmas in the UK. I was in my usual post-leaving-parents vile mood (I don’t cry for my Mummy, but I do miss my family so much it hurts), plus our internet is down again which served to compound my malas pulgas (I am only writing this thanks to my life-saving, beloved iPhone). So the fun and noise of such a joyous celebration blew away my black clouds, as well as keeping the kids entertained for a good while.
For those not familiar with the who, what and where, the cartero/a real comes to town a few days before his/her bosses, the Reyes (6 January) to collect the letters from the children, who tell them how good they’ve been this year (truthfully of course – Spanish embellishing the truth? Never!), and ask for the presents they would like the Reyes to bring them. In case you’re wondering why I’m being so gender-unspecific, it’s because since our cartera was a cartera, then I can’t blanket masculinise all the carteras out there, even though that’s what they do here.
This Cartera Real sat on her splendid plywood throne, backed by swathes of regal red fabric, and flanked by lackeys (pajes). Other lackeys accompanied the little cabalgata (procession) – once Postlady Pat(ricia) had heard all the petitions, she and her two chief pajes climbed onto a cart embellished with a big silver star and, preceded by a band which played mournful Semana Santa-type tunes jazzed (cheered) up by fast drum-beating, made their way through the town, along with the all-important letter box, carrying the childrens’ missives for the Reyes Magos.
The pajes – of various ages – blow whistles, lending the procession an air of jolly reverence, and Caribbean party vibe, thanks to the rhythmical beats.
One of the strangest aspects of the Reyes celebrations is that, although women leading roles, political correctness doesn’t extend to race – almost all of the participants are blacked up. In a few places, they actually hire people whose skin is naturally that colour, though mostly not. Most countries wouldn’t even allow it. Do you find it offensive?