Sunday, January 6, 2008
When we lived in Spain, we learned how to celebrate Dia de Los Reyes, also known as Epiphany, on January 6. In Spain, this is bigger than Christmas. Children write letters to Los Reyes asking for presents, and on the day before Epiphany the kings arrive and have a parade down the streets and the children go home and get their gifts. Like all Spanish holidays, there is a special food you eat on Los Reyes: a sticky round cake with glaceed fruit with something hidden inside. None of us liked the looks of the cake so we never bought it.
For our first Los Reyes, a Spanish family who we met through my husband's aunt took charge of us and told us where to meet them to see the parade. The streets were crowded with a huge crowd of families with strollers and kids sitting on shoulders. My sons elbowed their way to the front of the crowd, following their Spanish friends. Finally the floats with the kings arrived, Caspar (the white haired one), Melchior, and Balthazar (the dark-skinned and most beloved one). The kings and their attendants threw handfuls of hard candy at the crowd. Some of it hit me on the head, because I was one of the few remaining standing. Everyone else was on their knees picking up candy from the street. Afterwards, we went with our friends to our favorite cafe for little ham sandwiches on white bread and flaky pastries and milky horchata and tazas de chocolate. Our sons spoke only a little Spanish, and their daughters spoke only a little English, but they were all in the state of excitement that only children between the ages of five and ten can achieve, and words were not needed. Our table erupted with giggles and gestures and silliness that grew more and more boisterous. The Spanish father told his daughters to settle down quite a few times but they did not seem to notice. When we feared the four of them would topple from their chairs, we left the cafe, and said goodbye outside. The crowd had dispersed, and there was not one piece of candy remaining on the street.
The following year in early December, I went to the Santa Lucia market at the cathedral to buy a creche, or belen, in Spanish. The one I bought was made by Carme Ferrer, who sold them herself in a stall. She said she works all year making the figures and sells them during the week of the market. I bought hers after looking around at all the others for sale because I liked her kings and camels the best. I liked how they looked simple and handmade, and yet were carefully painted. She wrapped all the figures up for me carefully in scrap paper. I set out the belen every year and remember the market and Carme Ferrer and the Los Reyes parade and the tall glasses of horchata and our friends in Spain.