In Poland, January 6th has been a public holiday since 2011, and much like on Christmas day, all the stores, banks, shops and offices are closed. In 2009, the first large-scale cavalcade (a public parade of the Three Kings and their symbolic courts) took place in Warsaw. With several hundred participants and tens of thousands of spectators, it's one of the biggest nativity plays in Europe.
|Last year, it was freezing cold, but ten thousand people still showed up.|
This year, there were more than three times as many!
|Pronounced Oar-shack Tscheh Crooley ;)|
The public is encouraged to play along; paper crowns and song books are distributed to the crowd by volunteers.
The Kings Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar ride through town, in a chariot, on a horse and on a camel, respectively.
Their courts are color-coded: children in red capes and silver helmets for Caspar, who represents the continent of Europe, green capes and rice hats for Melchior who represents Asia, and blue capes and headscarves for Balthasar and Africa. The courts gather by Sigismund's Column in the Old Town Square in Warsaw at noon for the Angelus prayer, then set out to walk to Piłsudski Square where a family acts in a live creche.
But before they and the thousands of ordinary people following them can take their crowns off to pay respect to Jesus (who in Christian tradition is the King of Kings), they must face several obstacles.
Never fear: they are guided by the Star of Bethlehem.
Behind it come hosts of angels, traditionally played by blind and disabled children, and proper shepherds from the Southern mountains singing carols.
Among them walk the Cardinal Archbishop and clergy, mountain lifeguards, a choir, then at last the hosts of the kings.
But on their way to Betlehem, they will be sorely tempted, for they must pass through the Republic of Pleasure, where the minions of Hell will offer them fantastic, lucrative deals in exchange for their souls.
|Hell's attorneys and business representatives, heckling passers-by to sign contracts for their souls.|
Then, they will witness the battle of Good and Evil. On a pedestal, a choir of angels sings out virtues, while below, cloaked in clouds of sulphur, a band of devils screeches out sins.
Suspended in uncertainty between them is a man, who climbs up and down a ladder, struggling with his vices and ambitions, unable yet to ascend to Heaven, unwilling still to descend to Hell.
Betlehem draws near, but now the courts pass through the kingdom of Herod, who watches from his window and calls out: Where are you going? To see the newborn King?
I am the only King, he claims, and demands to be told where the baby Jesus is, so that he may kill the usurper.
We know, of course, that the baby is in the manger, where the parade culminates with the giving of the gifts, and a blessing. Carols are sung out loud throughout the event, the public taking over in the gaps between mobile speakers.
|That donkey was singing quite a lot, too.|
And that's how it was this year. Additional attractions were the performances of several young childrens' choirs, a choreographed banner dance, and a beautiful Chinese-style dragon at the head of the Asian group.
Balthasar's camels, of course, were a highlight, as was the African-born King himself. Poland is a very pale-skinned country; though it is not exactly uncommon to see black people anymore, their presence in media, politics and other public events still causes interest. When you see someone who is not white in Poland, your first thought is 'a foreigner'; but the country is more diverse than many realise. King Balthasar, or rather mr. Martin Bol Deng Aleu, a native Sudanese forced to flee his country on account of his Christian faith, is a Polish citizen, and has been living here since 1996.
It looks like the Cavalcade of the Magi, new as it is to Poland, has already become a proper tradition. Check it out next year!
And here's a pro tip- if you're watching in Warsaw, and can't get a good view on account of the crowd, go up to the viewing terrace on top of St. Anna's church tower. That's how I took the first photo in this post.
Orszak Trzech Króli website (Polish only)
Wikipedia Entry on the Epiphany (Three Kings' Day)