Firstly a very ‘Happy New Year’ to everyone on the Western calendar and a ‘hope December was fun’ to everyone else.
Here in Barcelona we are just getting ready for the Three Kings, the final phase of the festive season which involves even more presents, some fuel-based child abuse and of course a cake.
Before the big fat bloke and his little helpers muscled in on the act, the Spanish traditionally only gave and received presents on the night of January 5th. Why? I hear you ask. Well, this was the night that the three Kings arrived to honour the birth of Jesus with three gifts, only one of which I can spell.
So this Tuesday night, children up and down the country will stick a pair of shoes by the window, stuffed with carrots and straw for the camels and hope they wake up to a nice array of goodies. Now if they have been good all year their aforementioned footwear will be full of presents waiting for them the following morning, if not, just a lump of coal.
Quite why coal is the punishment of choice remains a little bit hazy, but unless the offspring in question happens to own a steam engine or a power station, I expect the disappointment on their face after receiving a fossil fuel in their trainer is priceless.
Now the big difference between the Three Kings and Mr Claus is that the children get to watch the royals rock up on their camels and ‘La Cabalgata’ or cavalcade is a tradition in every city, town and village in the country.
So on the afternoon of the 5th, a large ship will appear in the harbour down by Maremagnum with a very special cargo onboard. Once ashore a caravan will make its way up to Placa Catalunya and onto Placa Espanya. The Three Kings, loads of camels, wagons full of presents, dancing girls, marching bands and a very, very large cart of coal will wind their way through the streets of the Catalan capital with their highnesses throwing sweets to the excited niños.
Now if this wasn’t enough excitement for one January, the following day, families will gather together for the obligatory festive meal; children showing off their newly acquired presents, parents showing off their newly acquired overdrafts and single people showing off they can still function after a fortnight of festive partying. After a slap up something, the ‘Roscon’ then appears. This is a very large doughnut-like cake filled with cream or custard, topped with glacier fruit and a crown in the centre. Hidden inside are a small figurine of Jesus and a Faba bean.
The idea, apart from not choking to death (it wouldn’t be a Spanish tradition unless there was a small chance of fatal injury), is that the one who discovers the mini Jesus, gets to wear the crown and is blessed with good luck for the year and the one who discovers the bean, pays for the cake!
So this week in Barcelona if you happen upon a stray camel, a crying child holding a piece of coal or someone choking in a restaurant on a statue of ‘The Saviour’ you might not know what to do but at least you will know why.