King’s Day, bigger and better than Christmas, seen through the eyes of a teacher
As an overly-cautious teacher – still very much fearing my first full-on student uprising – I distribute sugar-based snacks to adolescents very rarely. When I do, it is preceded by a thorough reminder of the conditions: eat after the lesson has finished, don’t snatch, say thank you, and put all wrappers in the bin. As the swarm of children began to descend upon Plaza Ayuntamiento for the annual Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (King’s Day Parade), I braced myself for a complete and utter disregard for my guidelines.
On the 5th of January every year, the Three Kings (whose Biblical gift choices called into question their perception of target audience) are paraded through the streets of Valencia, hurling sweets into the screaming faces of children and the bewildered faces of pensioners. As Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior are wheeled along the street they are treated like rock stars. Each had their own unique football-style chant sang at them as they progressed with Balthazar seeming to be the most popular for some reason (was he the one that brought gold rather than the notably worse ones?).
The entrance of the Kings was preceded by a bizarre range of rituals: the booing of the Roman soldiers; the shouting of ‘guapa’ by middle-aged fathers towards scantily-clad dancers; the parading of a giant, ginger naked baby; and the solving of the puzzle ‘which racial stereotype is this float trying to convey?’ However my favourite float was the man dressed as a giant tube of toothpaste, wielding an impractically large toothbrush at the crowd. His well-intended message was not received by all as a desperate-to-please mother barged me out of the way whilst lurching for a stray caramelo by my feet.
So what lessons did the children of Valencia take away from the event?
- Territory is key – the weak children in the parade were unable to throw their sweets far enough, thus greatly benefiting the first two rows.
- Strangers are Gods if they dress up and throw free stuff in your general direction.
- Ignore and possibly scorn those who offer nothing – the elaborate jellyfish costume is impressive but meaningless without gifts. Force them to make apologetic gestures as they potter along.
- Throwing surplus sweets at less-fortunate children at the back is a fun demonstration of power.
The parade confirmed for me what I already suspected was true: that Spain’s dream of a socialist utopia is indeed buried under a sea of plastic wrappers. Cabalgata de Reyes Magos is an ‘every child for himself’ environment. Resources are greedily hoarded with the weak going home empty handed. Some may say this is a great bit of fun, tradition and Spanish culture. However, as an educator who witnesses the development of these young people on a daily basis, it’s clear that events such as these are rotting away the gums of society that the toothpaste man tries so valiantly to protect.