Madrid’s modern ‘Three Kings’ parade annoys traditionalists

Parade takes place during eve of the Epiphany and marks end of the Christmas festivities

Children reacting during the ‘Three Kings’ parade in Madrid on Tuesday. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Children reacting during the ‘Three Kings’ parade in Madrid on Tuesday. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images


For some, Christmas in Madrid this year was an updated version of an age-old tradition, incorporating the values of equality and tolerance. But for others, it has been a tasteless attempt at political correctness which has destroyed the dreams of thousands of children.

The focus of this seasonal controversy has been the annual parades carrying the reyes, or three kings, who wave and throw sweets at watching families as they are carried through the streets of Spanish towns and cities on the night of January 5th. The parades are the focal point of Christmas and, according to folklore, the kings then distribute presents to sleeping children.

This year the leftist mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, introduced some changes to the parades in and around the capital. Real livestock was not used, to avoid animal cruelty; in some, a woman replaced one of the kings; and the monarchs’ costumes were given a 21st-century overhaul, with long, one-piece gowns instead of the more majestic traditional regalia.

The reaction from some of the mayor’s political adversaries has been furious.

David Pérez, mayor of the nearby town of Alcorcón for the conservative Popular Party (PP), accused the mayor of having “destroyed the excitement of thousands of children with her sectarian whims”.

His PP colleague, Jaime González Taboada, was equally outraged. “I would love some bright spark to explain to my five-year-old daughter why the kings are queens, why animals don’t exist and why the clothes are wrong,” he tweeted. “What’s next? Easter?”

A former communist, Ms Carmena ended a quarter century of conservative government in Madrid City Hall in May 2015. Supported by a leftist coalition that includes the anti-austerity party Podemos, she vowed to usher in “a real change in the way politics is done”.

She has prioritised transparency in public contracts and preventing struggling families from being evicted from their homes. As Syrians and others fled from the war-torn Middle East, Madrid city hall hung up banners from public monuments, reading: “Refugees welcome.”

In Tuesday night’s Christmas parades, Ms Carmena’s administration ensured that those playing the role of the wise man Balthasar were of African descent, rather than merely wearing black make-up as is usually the case.

In response to the controversy, the Madrid government said that each person’s idea of the three kings was “absolutely personal”.

“We accept this can create debate,” it added, “because it is a more modern parade than last year’s, aimed at, and thinking about, children in particular.”

The Socialist Party, which backs the Carmena administration, has been broadly supportive of the new-look Christmas parade, insisting that there are other more pressing issues.

‘Cultural complexes’

The most famous attack came from former PP congressional deputy Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo who tweeted that her six-year-old daughter had complained that one of the kings’ costumes did not look real.

“I will never forgive you, Manuela Carmena,” she added. “Ever.”