The Spanish word “cabalgata” is derived from the verb “cabalgar”, “to ride” as in to ride horseback. A “cabalgata” is a procession on horseback and at this time of the year it usually refers to “La Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos” which is the procession commemorating the Three Magi during the Epiphany when they came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the Baby Jesus. In much of the Spanish speaking world the Three Magi or “Three Kings of the Orient” who are named Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar (in Spanish) also bring toys and gifts to the children. On the evening of the 5th of January the children put their shoes close to a window and leave little gifts of food for the Magi and hay for their animals. In the morning there will be gifts in the shoes or next to the shoes. Santa Claus is making good headway in Mexico but nothing matches the excitement of the Three Kings. In the City of Irapuato, where I live in Central Mexico, there is a grand cabalgata on the evening of January 5th and it is just about the most popular outdoor event of the year. It began in 1954 and this year there will be forty-two contingencies in the cabalgata represented by six hundred individual participants and it will be watched by about 350, 000 people who line the streets over an eighteen block area. The amount of people who will line the parade route is over half of the population. Just imagine the enthusiasm necessary to bring the people out on one of the coldest nights of the year!
Along the way there will be many vendors of helium filled balloons. Parents buy balloons for their children who attach their wish lists to the balloons and let them soar up to Heaven so that God will be sure to see them. The excitement of the children is really something to see, especially when the Three Kings arrive at the rear of the cabalgata. They are always represented by handsome muscular men who ride magnificent and spirited horses and they are all decked out in regal finery. I am willing to bet that the original Three Kings didn’t look as grand as our Three Kings of Irapuato. The cabalgata starts punctually at 7:30 pm and it ends about 9:pm. That should be a clue right there because hardly anything else is punctual here. Afterwards, all of the people go home and the kids put out their shoes and go to bed dreaming of the gifts that they hope to receive. The next morning they get up early to see what the Three Kings left for them. On January 6th, the Epiphany, the people traditionally eat a cake that is called a “Rosca de Reyes”. It is a cake shaped like an oval ring and it has raisins and candied fruit on it. Inside the cake is baked a small porcelain or white plastic figurine of a child which symbolizes the Baby Jesus being hidden from the eyes of King Herod. Each person in turn is given a knife with which to cut a piece of cake for themselves. The knife symbolizes the danger that the Baby Jesus was in.
On the evening of the 6th there is usually an early light supper called a "Merienda". Many times that is when the rosca cake is served accompanied by atole blanco which is a popular hot drink made from corn meal or the chocolate version which is called “champurrado”. Whoever receives the slice of rosca that contains the figurine has to host a tamale dinner for the rest of the people on February 2nd which is called “Candalaria”. This date marks the end of the formal Christmas season and the figure of the Baby Jesus is taken from the manger and washed and dressed in new clothes and put away for another year. There is a little ceremony that usually includes saying a rosary and at the end of the ceremony everyone receives a traditional piece of candy.