Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany in Spain

Liz, in Staffordshire wrote:
In Spain, each town or area of a city has it's own "Belem" or Nativity scene. El Masnou, near Barcelona, has a "live" one in the streets every night which has to be seen to be believed. For some reason they always include rabbits, a "naughty" boy and a sort of harvest festival stall with fruit. I can't remember seeing the naughty boy at this one as he's usually doing what should be very private LOL! Some of the model ones are in Churches, others in public buildings and some are huge, with a story of Christ from Christmas to Easter in mini scenes. Most shops also have mini nativities, often handmade, sometimes reflecting the type of shop, in their windows.

You can see a few pictures of Belems and Sagrada Santa (Easter models) here:
Miniatures from Around the World

People order their cake for Epiphany ("King Cake" in English) then queue down the street, so you can tell which is the best baker! It's a bit like tea bread with cream, and inside you find lottle charms and figures, including the King charm. Whoever gets that must be king for the day... and buy the cake next year! We usually buy one and share it round the campsite where we are staying, along with our own Christmas cake, which all the non-British campers find very odd.

As for coal (and we have a family tradition that one of my uncles had just that one year!) you can buy little sacks of "coal" before Epiphany, rather like the "Reindeer Droppings" we see. You also see Three Kings climbing ladders up houses (or blocks of flats!) like the Father Christmases we see here.

The best is in the afternoon or early evening. On our first trip, not knowing anything about it, we saw lots of processions on TV but now we always go out to find it. The Kings are splendidly dressed and might be on one or three floats or even on individual horses. In Cadiz their arrival by boat is heralded by canon fire! The parade can take ages and includes lots of decorated floats with people throwing sweets and/or plastic flowers to all and sundry. It starts off very sedately but they end up "lobbing" them at their friends, who might even "chuck" them back! Everyone is dressed in their best clothes and often all the children in a family are identically dressed - boys in shorts and tights the same as their sisters' skirts and tights, and all ages too. They must cost families a fortune, but it is a frequent sight. All generations are out together and it's one of the few days that most of the men are not in the bar for long as it really is a family occasion. The grandads are the funniest, elbowing everyone else out of the way while they fill carrier bags full of sweets, supposedly for their grandchildren. The teenagers dive for them in a dangerous manner or congregate together shouting for Balthazar.

Balthazar always seems to be the most popular King, and is usually blacked up. They end up with one pink cheek as all the children are held up to kiss them and the make-up gets rubbed off. In Fortuna, in the South East of Spain, we saw a queue form long before the town band could be heard at the front of the Kings' procession. It weaved to and fro filling the square and big children looked after younger ones; it was very rare to see even a very little child being chaperoned by a parent. They must have queued patiently for an hour or more, to be presented with a gift which they acknowledged with a kiss on each "King's" cheek. This wouldn't be seen to be at all odd in Spain or Portugal, where children are treated very differently from here and family values / local friendship groups still seem very strong.
The Spanish know how to party and we are usually ready to stagger off at this point, but I doubt very much if anyone else gets to bed before the 7th!