Three Kings Fiesta in Javea Details -Video
Javea is very fond of its festivals, like every Spanish city and town and village and hamlet – anywhere people are gathered in a community large or small. Festivals may be based on ancient traditions or they may have been instigated in recent years; in fact it sometimes seems that festivals are their own reason, just a fine excuse for a party.
Some of the older, traditional, festivals have very deep roots, and many of the celebrants probably don’t even know precisely where a particular celebration originated or why, they just enjoy the fun of all the festivities. One of the oldest and most beloved of these is Tres Reyes, also known as Los Reyes Magos or the Festival of the Three Kings, and at least as far as children are concerned, it’s probably the annual favourite.
While there are conflicting stories about how Santa Claus came to be a symbol of Christmas gift-giving, there is no question about the origins of the Three Kings or Magi. We all know the three Kings of Orient lore from Christmas carols and children’s Christmas Nativity plays; they were reported to have traveled from far-off places to the town of Bethlehem, following a guiding star that led them to the Christ child.
Unlike the tradition observed in the U.K. and much of the Western world, according to Spanish lore the three kings did not arrive in Bethlehem on the day Christ was born. They showed up almost a fortnight later, on January fifth.
The Bible’s history says that they were wise men (Magi), and historians who have researched the occasion over the centuries have proposed that these wise men were possibly priests in an ancient religious sect of Persia, such as the Zoroastrian. They were the astronomers and astrologists of that time, and they discovered a new star that they believed heralded the birth of a great king.
The principal is, it’s certain they were from East of Jerusalem and they brought the sort of gifts that were often given to royalty and/or persons who held a great deal of power. Almost all sources of information agree that they brought gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, gold being associated with kings, frankincense (incense of any kind, presumably) which was associated with religious ceremonies and priests, myrrh as a perfumed oil for anointment.
Biblical scholars have given these wise men names that are are pretty much accepted by everyone as either factual or at least good enough for proper identification. Most Spanish children know these names as well as those of their friends, since the Kings appear faithfully every January and always bring gifts.
Melchoir is King of Arabia, and he brings the gold. Traditionally he wears a gold cloak and has long white hair and a white beard. Gaspar is the King of Sheba, and he brings the frankincense. He has brown hair and a brown beard (if he has one; sometimes he doesn’t). He is dressed in a green cloak and wears a crown of gold with green jewels. Balthazar, King of Egypt and Tarse, is a black man with (sometimes) a black beard. He wears a purple cloak, and his gift is myrrh.
The three kings arrive (much like Santa Claus, in fact) simultaneously in every Spanish town on the evening of January fifth. They may arrive on horseback or even via helicopter in some locations, but in Javea, of course they arrive by sea. The timing of the festival means that it begins as the Twelve Days of Christmas end, and January 6th is a holiday for all banks and businesses in Spain.
Kids have been gearing up for the day well before it arrives. In Javea parents will suggest to the kids (as if they need any suggestion) that they write a letter to the kings from the East and let them know that they (the children) have been “good for goodness’ sake” and ask their majesties to bring some of the particular items they’ve been yearning for. A few days prior to the arrival of Tres Reyes, special messengers arrive in town to pick up these letters and convey them to the potential benefactors, and youngsters begin to built up the level of excitement that will only increase as the day comes nearer.
These royal envoys usually hold court in both the Church of the Lady of Loreto in the Port and the indoor market in Javea’s historic centre. All the children with letters to ‘post’ bring them to one these spots and line up to deposit them in special boxes. They generally get small treats and sweets in return, and they have the opportunity to have a word with one of the messengers, if they feel the need to remind the Kings of good behavior, or perhaps clarify a special request.
As you can imagine from this description in many ways ‘Three Kings’ is for Spanish children very much what Christmas Day is for other European children, as such, this is obviously a major event in the annual fiesta calendar.
At last, on the evening of January 5th, a brightly decorated fishing boat will arrive in Javea Port, bearing the Three Kings and their entourage. Gaspar, Melchoir and Balthazar are met by city dignitaries including the mayor, and escorted with great pomp and ceremony from the boat and into the port. There the streets are lined with eager children and remarkably calm adults – considering the bedlam that follows the Kings and their escort of assistants.
This entourage proceeds through the streets of the port, complete with marching band and floats and and ‘pages’ carrying large sweet-filled baskets. Almost everyone on the floats is also supplied with baskets or buckets of kid-type sweets and they are all flinging handfuls at the crowds in an entirely undiscriminating fashion. Older school children in one club or another are usually riding on the floats and tossing out candy rather than scrambling for it, but you can be sure they make sure to retain their fair share.
In reality, visitors should be warned to look out for flying candy, and for the little ones who dart around and under the bigger people to snatch up all the toothsome debris they can catch or chase down. Parents are advised to bring bags for the kids to load up, and some enterprising youngsters have been known to carry upside-down umbrellas hoping to catch more of the raining goodies.
Also visitors who aren’t familiar with the tradition might want to know that the boat should arrive in the port at about 5:00 pm and the Three Kings and their parade will be proceeding along Calles Aduanas and Avenida Jaime 1. The parade continues along Avenida del Alicante, Ronda Norte and Principe de Asturias until it winds up in the Placeta del Convent, sometime around 7:00 pm.
-Prior to that, however, the Kings and pages are escorted up to a specially provided platform in the Port where they are surrounded by an audience of cheering spectators; the three will then make some ‘proclamations’, usually some fireworks are set off and finally the Kings and their helpers distribute more goodies. The kids can climb on the stage at this point – in small groups – and have a word or two with one of the wise men who, in their wisdom, believe all protestations of good behavior and offer small toys and treats.
Soon another procession heads off through the main streets and up into the old town, still showering a seemingly inexhaustible confetti of hard sweets and other treats until it reaches another platform built in the Placeta del Convent. Once more the Three Kings and their retinue mount the platform to deliver a few more proclamations, followed by more fireworks. By now you’d think the kids would have flagged a bit, but they never seem to, and they’re more than ready for more small presents.
These are received with delight, but the kids know they won’t get the things on their wish lists on this night but will have to wait for the morning of January 6th. It used to be that children, and adults, left their shoes out so Tres Reyes could locate them and leave the appropriate presents inside. Nowadays there is more often a Christmas tree in place, where there’s room for more and bigger presents, as their majesties presumably have kept up with inflation.
When the Kings depart, some families will go on to a late dinner at a restaurant (having booked well in advance) but more will head home and get small children into bed so they will hopefully sleep off the candy they’ve devoured and be ready to tear into the ‘serious’ presents that have been left for them by the visiting Kings. In more traditional homes the family will leave out some sweet wine or milk and biscuits plus some water and hay – for camels, not reindeer.
Many families will have a nativity scene set up in their yards, and the more enthusiastic will have them arranged and re-arranged in the days before January 6th so that the Magi move closer and closer to Bethlehem, arriving promptly on the morning of the 6th. There is still a majority in the number of ‘traditionalists’ who hold to the arrival of the Kings rather than of Father Christmas or Santa Claus for the giving and receiving of gifts. That is changing throughout Spain, but Javea is still pretty much holding on to the Three Kings.
This means that January 6th in Javea is like Christmas day in other parts of the Christian world, and it is a national holiday as well as the day families gather to share love and kinship – and presents. Breakfast, or sometimes dinner, includes the Roscon de Reyes (Three Kings Cake), a sweet pastry that may be homemade but is usually purchased from bakeries and markets sometime during the Christmas season; the cake will always include two special ingredients.
If you bite into your piece of Roscon and discover the figurine of the baby Jesus, you’ll be crowned king or queen of the day and get to wear a gold crown, which is usually included in the packaging.
If on the other hand you find or bite into a faba bean, you’re stuck with paying for next year’s cake.
In Javea one nice tradition is for the recipient of the figurine to take it to church at Candlemas on February 2nd , the date, according to Biblical history, when Jesus was presented at Herod’s Temple.
The festival of Tres Reyes is slowly being supplanted by more blatant consumerism in the form of the fat man from the North Pole, and quite a few families subscribe to both the December 25th holiday and the January 6th holiday. This may be frowned upon by true traditionalists – but you may be sure the children don’t mind a bit.
More Images and Video from the fiesta Here