Madrid´s Three Kings Parade Heralds Epiphany

All is set for tomorow´s traditional Three Kings Parade ( Cabalgata de Reyes) with the arrival of  Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar in Madrid with their gifts and messages of peace & goodwill to all.

In fact the Three Kings have already reported to be in the city vicinity and are expected to make some early appearances this evening in some of Madrid´s districts.

The parade which celebrates the eve of Epiphany ( 12th night) – the Magi´s visit and bringing of gifts to the infant Jesus – is one of the Madrid´s most anticipated events.

As in recent years the parade runs along the Paseo de la Castellana, starting at 6.30pm in Nuevos Ministerios, on corner of Plaza San Juan de la Cruz and along Gregorio Marañón, Glorieta de Emilio Castelar, Plaza de Colón, Paseo de Recoletos and finishes up in the Plaza de Cibeles at around 9pm.

Some 300,000 people are expected to welcome them, but if you want a seat in the stands best get early as there are just 8,000 seats along the Castellana and 2,500 in the Plaza de Cibeles.

Instead of the biblical frankincense, gold and myrrh, the three wise men will be dishing out 1,200 kgs of sweets to the throngs of children who line the route.

Each of the biblical gifts had a special significance. Frankincense, a perfume, was a symbol of deity, gold a symbol of kingship on earth and myrrh, which was commonly used as an anointing oil, as a symbol of death.

Madrid´s Cabalgata de Reyes is one of the biggest parades in the city´s calendar, complete with elaborately floats ( this year there are 13), speakers blaring out seasonal villancicos ( Spanish Christmas carols), as well as a drone display running along Madrid´s main artery of the Paseo de Castellana before reaching the Plaza de Cibeles Palace where the Magi address the crowds of children and parents.

But it wasnt always so….

Celebrating the Epiphany in Spain was until the early 20th century a riotous affair with drinking and merrymaking until the early hours – and much public disorder!

In a Madrid tradition, on the evening of the 5th, the city´s working class guilds of night watchmen, water carriers, porters and servants would clock off work early, drink plenty and roam around the city carrying torches, candles and in the middle of the crowd, a figure was held aloft on a ladder. His  job was to spot the approaching Magi from afar and alert the crowd who would in turn make an almighty drunken noise to alert the city!

The man atop the ladder was the lookout or oteador, who was usually the newest and youngest member of the guild and who played the part of the innocent, still believing in the existence of the Magi and their present giving. According to the Spanish newspaper El Diario, he carried a eye cone used to mimic a telescope to see the arrival of the Magi´s procession.

This raucus tradition continued until 1883, when the then mayor of Madrid stepped in and banned the processions, citing public order.

And so it stayed – until 1928 when Madrid´s first Cabalgata took place. According to Madrid´s City Hall archives, the parade was sponsored by the Madrid newspaper, El Heraldo de Madrid to give Christmas gifts to Madrid´s poor and deprived children.

The Spanish Civil War of 1936 -1939 brought Madrid´s official festivities to a halt but came back in 1953 when the Franco era city council initiated a semi military parade featuring a cavalcade and Three Kings.

By the 1960´s this had evolved into something like what Madrid has today, with local groups and community floats in the parade to escort the Magi through Madrid.

Farmers from Madrid escort the three kings

For 2024, thousands of families with a multitude of children will once more give a real Madrid welcome to Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar.

¡Feliz Reyes!




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