El Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos
The weather in the Catalan Pyrenees is not always the best for skiing in late December/early January, but even without the snow it doesn’t dampen the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas as celebrated throughout the region. The festivities begin on December 24th, Christmas Eve, with the arrival of Papá Nöel (Santa Claus) and end on the January 6th with El Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos, the day of the three kings, Epiphany, when the three Wise Men leave presents for the children, but for the children the highlight of the Christmas season occurs the evening of January 5th when tens of thousands of them turn out for the Cavalcade of Kings, when los Reyes Magos, the Magi Kings; Melchior, Gaspar, and Baltasar, enter cities and villages throughout Spain, some riding camels, others arriving by boat.
While the major celebrations take place in Madrid, Sevilla and especially Barcelona, where the fête can reach epic proportions, we were fortunate enough to find ourselves in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the village of Vic as the streets began to fill with hundreds of families. Soon scores of children, all dressed in traditional costume, carrying burning torches, led the procession of the Kings on their elaborate floats toward the Plaça Mayor where the Kings distributed candies and posed for pictures with the hundreds of children who waited long into the cold night, anticipating their arrival. When the parade was over, the children headed home to bed to await a visit from the Magi.
Two days later while visiting the village of Olot we found Papá Nöel, looking a bit worn and weary from all the excitement and strenuous balcony climbing, but the children were certainly happy after all his hard work.
Many catalán towns present a a living nativity scene, a pessebre vivent, a practice that dates from the 14th-century, in the square with the villagers, up to 300 of them, representing Biblical characters in an open-air representation of the Christmas Story. The pessebre presented in the medieval walled village of Pals, in the Baix Empordà outside Begur, is nationally known, and has been presented each year since 1987. The first modren pessebre was in the village of Corbera de Llobregat (Barcelona) in 1962.
Other villages with living nativity scenes are Castell d’Aro, an ancient village built around a medieval castle in the middle of the Costa Brava, La Pobla de Montornès, a few minutes up the coast from Tarragona, with 15 biblical scenes, Els Prats de Rei (Anoia), a small village west of Manresa. Les Gunyoles d’Avinyonet, a small village east of Vilafranca del Penedès ((Alt Penedès) with 13 scenes. Another one can be found in the province of Girona in the tiny mountain village of Joanetes, not far from Olot. In the hamlet of Ardèvol (Llida), population 100, has a cast of nearly 200 for it’s pessebre. The pessebre in Penelles, another small village in Llida, is perfomed by children between 3 and 14 years old and takes place over two days only, December 25th and January 1st. Outside of Tarragona, in Valls, known for its human towers, Castells, the pessebre takes place around the church of Sant Joan.