The big celebration for the Nativity season in Spain comes today, Three Kings Day, January 6. Everyone goes to Grandma and Grandpa's house for dinner (cars are double parked in my neighborhood, which has a lot of retired people), and gifts are exchanged.
I took this photo of the Three Kings at the Royal Palace's historic Nativity scene. The figurines are more than a century old, made by outstanding sculptors of their day, and are clad in gold-embroidered silk. Every year since the late 1700s, the royal family puts up a fabulously elaborate Nativity in the Palace for public viewing.
The Three Kings arrived in Madrid last night, guests of honor in a colorful and slightly chaotic parade that included dancers, acrobats, bands and music, floats, balloons, elaborate costumes, and animals: camels, burros, oxen, horses, and even a flock of costumed geese waddling down the street and apparently unperturbed by the hubbub. As is traditional, the royal entourage threw 16 tons of candy at the delighted children lining the parade route. Some held their hats upside down to catch as much candy as possible. Child obesity is becoming epidemic in Spain.
The Three Kings are portrayed each year by Madrid aldermen, and since there are no black politicians, the alderman impersonating Baltazar, the African king, appeared in blackface, as did some of his pages, but parade organizers managed to find a Brazilian dance group to represent the African entertainers in Baltazar's court.
The Bible makes only vague reference of an unspecified number of unnamed wise men who visited baby Jesus, guided by a star, but they brought gold, frankincense, myrrh: gold because he was a king and kings liked gold (they still do), incense because he was a god and needed worshiping, and myrrh because he was human.
Why humans need myrrh? In those days it was also known as Balm of Gilead, a medicine used to cure diarrhea, an illness which, then as now, killed many babies. Even gods and kings have to survive their childhood before they can reign. Wise men knew what to bring.