I feel sorry for Spanish kids. They break up for Christmas around about the 20th of December, and have to wait almost 3 weeks until they get their presents on the Dia de los Reyes Magos, which falls on the 6th of January.
Imagine having to wait that long during your Christmas holidays to get your presents, not to mention the minimal amount of time they have to play with them before going back to school. It’s like being off from work during the summer, but having to wait until the last day until you’re allowed in the pool.
Some years are worse than others. This year fell pretty well for Spanish kids because they got a whole weekend to play with their presents before going back. For the last four years they’ve returned the day after, on the 7th. Trust me. I’m a teacher and have seen their miserable faces in my classes on the 7th , and it’s not a pleasant sight.
On a religious side, receiving presents on the 6th of January makes sense, as this was when the three wise men gave gifts to baby Jesus. This explains why they do it like the do in Spain, and also why they have the Cabalgatas.
In case you don’t even know what the Cabalgatas are, they’re basically a parade of kids on top of musical carts throwing sweets at people. Okay, it is slightly more than that. Each cart, or carroza, belongs to one of the Kings, Balthazar, Gaspar, or Melchior, and has a theme. They could represent a famous Disney character, film, or a Children’s TV programme. Kids and adults dress up appropriately as they board the cart and make their way through the city slinging out gifts to the public.
The majority of gifts are sweets, at least in the centre of Seville, but if you move out to the towns on the outskirts they chuck out a lot more. Depending on where you go you could get plastic footballs, games, cameras, and even legs of jamón.
I never used to like the Cabalgatas. The first time I saw them in Seville I was on the Triana Bridge with my wife, girlfriend at the time. She’d been bigging them up more than Christmas itself, telling me that I had to see them and it was such a lovely, friendly, and wonderful parade.
To start with I thought it was cute; watching all these happy kids dressed up as flowers, angels, or star wars figures, dishing out sweets to the public. What a lovely idea, I thought, as I scooped up plenty of sweets to give to my students the following class (probably 2 days later).
Anyway, there I was, smiling and waving at the kids, when one, who must have identified me as a greedy, over-aged, foreigner, lugged a sweet straight in my eye, and it bloody hurt. I still remember the smug look on his face as he launched it at me ‘Take that you plonker.‘
My wife laughed at me, and thought I was joking, but I couldn’t see for a whole 20 seconds. It was a traumatic experience, being blinded by a flying hard-boiled sweet. I let her continue her sweet grabbing fest, but I kept my hands over my eyes to protect myself from any further onslaughts. I pitted for the people throwing themselves on the floor to get trampled on for some sticky caramelos. Some even used umbrellas turned upside down to catch even more.
I was so traumatised that I blagged my way out of seeing the next couple of years’ worth of Cabalgatas, claiming that it was just a way of encouraging locals to compete in a greedy way and cause havoc in the city.
Over time though, I began to see the funny side. My best experience watching Cabalgatas in the centre was in a decent spot in Plaza Nueva, with my wife and her dad. Even though we were right in the middle of a crowd, it was less aggressive than I remembered and there was a lot of banter flying about. Since then I’ve been more up for it.
The best ever Cabalgatas I saw was in a small town out of Seville, called Salteras. There were less people, the vibe was friendlier and less competitive, and they threw out a lot more footballs, and even cameras (there’s me being greedy).
Since having kids I get more of a buzz. The first year we took our son out he fell asleep just as it arrived, but the last two have been more special. The older he gets the more he appreciates what’s going on. He was so excited to see the parades, and was amazed that kids dressed up as flowers, lions, and bunny rabbits were throwing sweets up in the air for him.
Luckily I managed to catch a cheapo fishing rod with plastic fish too, which he’s already broken several times. It helped him understand more about the Magic kings though, and he’s know chosen Balthazar as his king, which we got in a Roscón de Reyes the following day, which pleased him no end.
So that’s why I enjoy it more each year. I feel like a kid again and jumping about trying to catch sweets is actually good fun. It’s a great build up to the Magic Kings Day too, you just have to be careful of spiteful kids, and perhaps wear protective glasses.
Are you a fan of the Cabalgatas? Have you ever been attacked by flying sweets?