Balthazar: a woman in a male-dominated field

Most people think of Three Kings as jolly generous men with obligatory beards, but this is not the case anymore

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

Three Kings parades (La Cabalgata de Reyes) were held across Andalucía on Wednesday 5 January, though with some exceptions. And I don't mean the towns that decided to cancel or to arrange the event on a smaller scale again this year.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cadiz province celebrated the arrival of the Three Kings as usual. Nevertheless Balthazar looked unusual. When the float with the dark-skinned king appeared the crowds were yelling 'Baltasara' instead of 'Baltasar'. This was because this year the town hall chose a policeman for Melchior, a doctor for Caspar and... a female television journalist for Balthazar. Rocío Caballero works on the local Costa Noroeste Televisión and she looked quite powerful and commanding, directing the male helpers as they threw sweets and gifts to the children from the float.

It is no longer a surprise that women in Spain take over formerly male-driven occupations, although, for one of the Three Kings to be a female is still something extraordinary. History recalls different attempts by women to substitute men but for different reasons. For example, about 70 years ago, when US experienced an employment shortage because the men went to fight in WWII, there was an attempt to let a woman be Santa Claus. However, the role of Santa was not conceded to a lady because the feeling was that children would not be able to accept such a deviation from the normally accepted Santa.

Nevertheless, Children in Sanlúcar de Barrameda easily accepted the permanently smiling woman as one of the Kings. It was noticeable that children communicated more with Rocio-Baltasara and she shared everything in an especially generous and more appealing way.

Incidentally, in the Mediterranean culture there is already a woman as Christmas gift-giving figure.

Her name is La Befana and she visits children in Italy on the eve of Epiphany. Like the Three Kings, she puts toys and sweets in the stockings of good children, and coal for bad ones. Additionally, she sometimes sweeps the floors of the houses she visits as well because she used to be a house-proud woman who had spent lots of time cleaning and sweeping until the Three Kings visited her. According to the legend, the Three Kings stayed for a night at Befana's place on their journey to give gifts to Baby Jesus. The next morning, they invited Befana to join them, but the woman refused because she had a lot of housework. Later, she regretted this and tried to catch up with the Three Kings but failed. Instead, Befana handed out sweets and gifts to other families on her travels.

It seems there is still a long way to go: to have the Three Kings parade with MelchiorA, CasparA and BalthazarA.