Early January breaks cost as low as half those in the same venues just a week earlier. Many northern Europeans head south for a frost-free break with a strong chance of sunshine, and the Costa del Sol is particularly popular.
Rich in evidence of Spain’s Moorish history, in Andalucia as elsewhere in Spain, the light-hearted religious carnivals that bring everyone, locals and tourists alike, out into the balmy sunset come as a pleasant surprise.
Origins of Spain’s Epiphany Christmas Holiday
- Epiphany, on 6 January, is when Christians remember the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. It also marks the end of the Christmas period, being the day that festive decorations are taken down and put away for another year.
- In Spain and in some Spanish ex-colonial states such as Mexico, Epiphany is also Gift Day, so that los Reyes Magos serve the traditional function attributed to Santa Claus in other Christian cultures.
- The parades are not deeply historical, most towns having begun them in the early twentieth century, around 1906. The first written references to the earliest known, the celebration of the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos de Alcoy, Alicante, date back to 1866.
Three Kings Parades take place across Spain with different forms being devised in different regions. So in some towns the Magi arrive by boat and in others by floats hauled by municipal tractors. In large cities the carnival is immense and largely a spectacle, while others involve the townspeople and the crowd more directly.
Tomorrow the Magi Bring Gifts
The King’s floats process through the streets bringing Melchior, Casper and Balthazar who will later, the children believe, bring gifts in the night. Before going to bed, children will put out straw and carrots for the camels, and three glasses of brandy for the Magi, on their balconies. Sometimes they put the straw in their shoes and leave them out on the windowsill. Tomorrow they will find the new bicycle or expensive toy they requested.
Nerja Three Kings Parade January 5th
Nerja is a small coastal town situated between Malaga to the south and Almeria. It’s greatest tourist attraction is its caves, with spectacular stalagmites and stalactites and neolithic cave paintings. It is also a popular beach resort and houses quite a few British retirees. Although close to the mountains, Nerja has had only a few frosty nights in the past century, so is a popular winter holiday venue.
Early evening on January 5th (about 5.30) the main population gather at the town bus stop for the start of the procession. Accompanied by a Boy Scout band, the procession gradually wends its way into the old town, where the tourists have been consuming coffee, and where gift shops and jewellers are open for business as the crowd surges around the floats.
Everyone Processes Through the Shopping Streets
Older local residents watch from balconies overhead. Children scramble for sweets and footballs thrown by the Kings and their many assistants, and local television take as much interest in the town turn-out as in the floats.
Finally, forming a procession, everyone sings as the Kings’ entourage progresses to the Nativity tableau outside the 17th century church of El Salvador, where ‘Joseph’, ‘Mary’ and her real baby await. There they form a ‘living nativity’ tableau characteristic of Mediterranean countries since St Francis of Assissi.
Nerja is typical of the best post-Christmas holiday Spanish surprise available at bargain rates each January.
Click photographs below to see large version