Camels Hit The Streets Of N.Y. For Three Kings Day

New Yorkers have had a tough few weeks getting around. First there was the massive snow. Then, the sidewalks overflowed with unpicked-up garbage. On Thursday, thanks to the Three Kings Day parade, it was the camels. NPR's Robert Smith was there, and explains.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

New Yorkers have had a tough few weeks getting around. First, there was the massive snow, then the sidewalks overflowed with garbage, and today it was camels. It's Three Kings Day, the traditional celebration of the day the magi, as the story goes, came to visit Baby Jesus. In New York, it's a big celebration in the Puerto Rican community.

Here's NPR's Robert Smith.

ROBERT SMITH: In East Harlem, everyone was king for a day. There were old wise men in robes of flowing sequins, kids with handmade crowns, and then there's Brian Foley(ph), who was hired to be one of the three kings on stilts.

Mr. BRIAN FOLEY: Well, I know that one of them has the gift of gold, one of them has the gift of Frankenstein, and one has the gift of mirth.

SMITH: That's frankincense.

Mr. FOLEY: And the other one has mirth. So I'm either going to walk around like a green monster with bolts sticking out of my neck, or I will try to make people laugh. And that's the mirth, as far as I can tell. Gold, I'm a starving artist in New York City. I'll do the best I can.

SMITH: Okay. Not everyone is clear on the biblical story. But there is one part of the legend that no Three Kings parade can do without - the camels.

Jose Luis Ortiz(ph), a drummer in the parade, explains that on the night before Three Kings, children leave a little gift for the dromedaries.

Mr. JOSE LUIS ORTIZ: You put some grass in a little box underneath your bed and, you know, and tomorrow, you wake up, and there will be a gift.

SMITH: Because the grass attracted the camels and the Three Kings?

Mr. ORTIZ: Yes. It's symbolic.

SMITH: Now, the problem is this is New York City after a huge snowstorm. Where do you find grass right now?

Mr. ORTIZ: Somehow, it's there. Yeah, it's a miracle.

SMITH: Just like the miracle of real live camels showing up in the middle of Harlem in the dead of winter.

Unidentified Child: Real camels. Oh, my gosh. Real camels. You've got to be kidding me. He's huge.

SMITH: The kids go crazy when the camels lumber out onto Lexington Avenue.

Amanda Brook pulls them on a rope. She works at Dawn Animal Agency, a sanctuary in upstate New York with 20 camels. But only certain ones get the role of a lifetime.

Ms. AMANDA BROOK (Dawn Animal Agency): They have to be able to be around all the people, all the noise and not be bothered by it. You know, we don't want to bring them if they're stressed or mind anything.

SMITH: Well, this must be their biggest day of the year. There's not too many camel-centric holidays.

Ms. BROOK: This is - they do the Christmas (unintelligible) in the Music Hall as well, so...

SMITH: Ooh, that's pretty big.

Ms. BROOK: Yeah. So they have some good gigs this year.

SMITH: The lucky beasts are Nina, Carol and Ted, and they seem immune to the kids rushing up and the cameras flashing in their faces and the rather thick smell of incense from the lead Three Kings. But in this snow-weary city, there is something the camels have to avoid - the white stuff.

Ms. BROOK: Yeah, we don't walk them over snow just in case it's icy underneath and they slip because they have like hard (unintelligible). It's really hard leather. It's not like a hoof. So it's very slippery if it was ice.

SMITH: There are politicians at this parade. There are celebrities. But only the camels have a security detail. Five young men dressed all in black like Secret Service agents scan the crowd for danger. Is anyone flashing a peanut? Is that young child about to move to grab those bony legs?

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: The only people who know how to keep a respectful distance are the kings themselves. Some have done this parade for years, and they have stories of crowns being nibbled by the camels, of being soaked by great streams of urine.

Unidentified Man #2: You have to step back, all right, so that they can get the animals in.

SMITH: The NYPD comes in to help at the end of the parade. As the camels are whisked away from the paparazzi, Amanda Brook closes the door to the trailer.

Now that the parade is over, what are the camels going to do for the next 11 months?

Ms. BROOK: Oh, they're going to relax at the farm and enjoy their time-out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: And wait for Christmas.

Ms. BROOK: Exactly. Occasional Moroccan-theme birthday party or wedding thrown in there and they're done.

SMITH: A well-earned vacation.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.