Despite growing criticism, the practice of wearing blackface in January 6 parades in Spain that commemorate the arrival of the three wise men at Bethlehem persists. In Spain, as part of their Christmas and New Year celebrations, people wearing the racist blackface depicting one of the three wise men is not seen as offensive but rather a part of a culture and centuries-old tradition.
The country’s Three Kings parade is observed annually on January 6. The parade marks the arrival of the three wise men or three kings – Balthazar (who is portrayed as Black), Melchior and Gaspar at the birthplace of Jesus Christ bearing gifts.
According to the Independent, the procession, which dates back to the 19th century, features the three kings, with Balthazar in blackface walking through the streets and dishing out sweets and gifts to children on January 6 to mark the end of the Christmas season. People also wear blackface to represent Balthazar and share gifts.
In the town of Alcoy, which has hosted the parade longer than any other location in the country, a video was shared by Ruptly in 2019 of teenagers in blackface with exaggerated red lips handing out gifts to children in the parade.
Activists have recently called for the use of blackface to be stopped. Some say a Black person should play Balthazar. “It doesn’t matter what you think you’re trying to represent. It doesn’t matter that you think that’s how you make children happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tradition. If you paint yourself a color that is not yours, it is racist,” said Elvira Swartch Lorenzo, a member of Afrofeminas, an anti-racism group, in a statement asking for the tradition to be abolished.
The group believes that the parade perpetuates dehumanizing stereotypes and “helps to normalize slavery as something harmless and inconsequential in the collective imagination, which is completely untrue.”
In spite of concerns of it being racist, this year’s parade will go on Friday, organizers in Igualada told CNN, adding that they are expecting “about 1,000 volunteers” to participate.
“This year, 2023, and like it has been done since 1899, the parade in Igualada will be majestic, and most importantly, it will be magical,” the organizers said. As always, authorities have defended the practice, saying it is not racist but an “honor” to dress up like Balthazar who they consider to be a very beloved and highly valued character within the parade itself.