When I lived in Spain, the Christmas holiday lasted for two long, work-free weeks culminating in Reyes, which celebrates the beginning of the discount season. Reyes or Kings Day, the proverbial twelfth night of Christmas, commemorates the visitation of the three Magi from the Orient — Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior — who bring good tidings and cheap products from their respective low-wage eastern kingdoms.
Unlike many countries, where shopping must conclude before Christmas day, in Spain — a land where procrastination is worth waiting for — parents can delay gift purchase decisions until the new tax year.
It’s no epiphany: You can tell where the money is in this country by following the kings. In my town, the upscale Barcelona suburb of Sant Cugat, the kings arrived by helicopter accompanied by klieg lights, fog machines, and a stage show worthy of the Rolling Stones.
After the kings’ assault chopper touched down, they were paraded through the town in monster trucks followed by elaborate floats, marching bands, and lots of plugs for local enterprises. Dignitaries riding the garish floats enjoyed pelting the plebes with rock-hard candy and shouts of good tidings.
Catalans love fire, danger, and demons and find a way to work them into all celebrations from baptisms to funerals. One of the many elaborate floats was a giant stew pot full of naughty nuns being cooked by happy devils. The sisters simmered in the soup while the flame-stoking demons danced and stirred the pot with their pitchforks.
The Kings of Commerce eventually arrived at the local monastery where a hooded priest brought them a plastic baby to endorse and revere. After sufficient adoration and a demonstration of the toy’s many child-pleasing features, the royal retailers distributed discount coupons for local stores and paraded around town throwing more hard candy at children.
The parade floats wound around town so that all kids, rich and richer, had a chance to dive under the tractor wheels to fetch the fallen candy. Seeing children risk being mashed to mince by tractors, horses, and hummers adds a level of heart-stopping excitement that simply can’t be found elsewhere.
Each king signifies an important value like faith, hope, and disdain for immigrants. Gaspar, the King of India — a white guy in black face — is the kids’ favorite for the obvious reason that he brings toys. The other two more practical geezers just bring clothes, school supplies, and EU subsidies.
While Sant Cugat’s kings voyage by helicopter, it’s widely believed that the real kings traveled on camel back. In deference to this tradition, local pastry shops sell little bowls of chocolate camel dung for parents to leave as proof that dromedaries and dukes still deliver the goodies. How the camels sneak into high-rise security apartment buildings isn’t much of a concern, nor is the fact that their poop is edible.
Why question a sweet thing?