January 2007

Feliz Año Nuevo!

There’s something so exciting about hanging a brand new calendar, opened up to the first page (this is the first time since 2001 that I don’t have a Lord of the Rings calendar!), with the promise of a fresh, whole new year ahead of you. Of course, if you are Latino, chances are better than not that you are not quite finished with the whole Christmas thing…we still have to contend with El Día de los Reyes Magos, The Feast of the Three Kings, when Latinos and Christians all over the world celebrate the presentation of gifts to the Infant Jesus by the three kings, Gaspar, Melchor, and Balthazar.
Traditionally, this was the day when children in Latin America were rewarded with gifts. On the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day), children would place grass or hay in their shoes, for the camels that bore the three Kings, instead of cookies and milk. The Kings would then leave presents for the children, to reward their good behavior (much like Santa Claus). Abuela and Mami would regale me with stories about Christmas in Puerto Rico, when they were little girls, and how they would angst over how to make their gifts to the camels more special.
Besides celebrating Los Reyes with parrandas, and aguinaldos, beautiful sweet bread rings, called Roscas de Reyes were baked, containing a small plastic doll, or a bean representing the Baby Jesus. The bread was baked and served in pieces. Whoever got the piece with the doll was responsible for buying the tamales for el Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) on February 2. I am including a recipe for the beautiful “crown” of bread, studded with “jewels” of candied fruits, that was worn by the Three Kings.


These days, sadly, these traditions are falling by the wayside in favor of a more
“commercial” Santa Claus. While the traditional Nativity crèche is well represented, so are Christmas trees and Santa Claus, and many people that I spoke to said that aside from a Church observance, El Día de Los Reyes is not what it once was in Latin America.
I have so very many happy memories of this holiday, I would truly hate to see it all but disappear into assimilation. If in fact, you cannot get an invitation to a fabulous Reyes party (the really slamming ones have traditional musicians playing Christmas aguinaldos, bombas, and in Puerto Rico, plenas), plan on having your own, smaller celebration, and try your hand at the Rosca de Reyes and serve it with some delicious chocolate caliente. At the very worse, you’ll be able to stretch the holiday season through to February, and start a tradition for your family, of your very own!

Feliz Día de Reyes and Buen Provecho!


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