By Robin Graham
Our first Christmas in Spain, we were prepared for the fact that the 25th of December is pretty much a non-event; actually, we skipped the country for a Bavarian Noël. On our return though it was exciting to anticipate our first Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos – the arrival each year of the Three Kings on January 5th, guided by the holy star and weighed down with gifts as they parade through the streets throwing candies for the children (and grown-ups).
This is what the Spanish children would have been waiting for. The following morning, on January 6th, they would wake to their gifts, unless of course they had been naughty, in which case they’d open tired eyes to a lump of coal (these days it tends to be candy coal to soften the blow). In fact many Spanish children would already have received gifts on the 24th or 25th just like the rest of the world, so they’re lucky.
It doesn’t matter how much you think you know, though – Tarifa always has a surprise up its sleeve – and the surprise is almost always a procession.
On the morning of the fifth, hours before their majesties were due, I heard a racket coming down the cobbled street towards our apartment, passing beneath our balcony in a burst of metallic, rasping noise. When I looked down I saw the children of the town passing by, one hand in that of a parent, the other pulling a length of string to which had been attached a number of tin cans, which bounced along the cobblestones. You can imagine the din. They were led by some kind of blue spirit, dancing through the narrow streets.
It’s a local custom, apparently; the ‘Arrastre de Latas’ (Dragging of Cans), when the children of both Algeciras and Tarifa drag tin cans through the streets to banish the “Giant of Botafuegos,” who tries to cover the sky with gray clouds, obscuring the star from the Three Kings. The cloud is banished so that the kings might find their way.
Another version has it that parents who couldn’t afford presents would tell their children that the kings were tired and had fallen asleep, so the enterprising children would make as much noise as possible to wake the lazy monarchs up. Either way, it means that the Spanish have found yet another excuse to do what they do best – fill the streets with noise and colour.
Robin Graham writes at http://alotofwind.com/