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Eat Like a King, Donate Toys for Epiphany

The navitity scene in the zócalo of San Pedro Cholula.While most folks north of the border are packing up Christmas decorations and kicking dried-up trees to the curb, many Mexican families — three in every four of which are Catholic — are preparing to celebrate Epiphany this week. The holiday, known as el día de reyes (day of kings), commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem on January 6, twelve days after the birth of Jesus. Melchoir, Caspar, and Balthasar essentially follow in Santa’s footsteps, bringing gifts to children who’ve behaved themselves the previous year.

Waiting for the Wise Men

Pablo, my other half, recalls his childhood experiences fondly. “The night before, we put one shoe — usually the ones we wore to school — under the tree with a note for the three kings asking for toys,” he explains. “Sometimes, if we’d recently lost a tooth, we put it there, too. My brothers would leave a cookie for the kings, too, but I never did.”

While he and his brothers slept, los reyes left unwrapped toys next to each one’s shoes to be discovered on January 6. “I remember being so happy and excited, waking up in the morning and running for the tree to see what they’d brought me. One year, I got an Atari, and my dad and I stayed up playing it all night.” The family’s tradition continued every year until Pablo was about 12, he says, when he realized that his parents were the Magi.

Cutting the Cake

A king’s cake decorated with dried fruits.As part of the festivities, Mexicans typically also share a rosca de reyes and a beverage, such as hot chocolate or atole. Americans who live in the southeast (or have been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans) are probably familiar with king’s cake, a large crown-shaped pastry decorated with colored sugar that’s eaten throughout the season of Carnival, from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. In Puebla, you can find various types of roscas, including a light brioche-like cake and a denser one with nuts and a frangipane-like filling. Both are often topped with strips of dried fruit. It’s customary for the baker to hide a tiny plastic baby inside, which represents Christ.

Whoever ends up with the figurine is charged with hosting the next fiesta: a tamale dinner on Feb. 2, or Candlemas, the church festival commemorating the presentation of Christ in the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.

Locals and visitors alike can take part in public cake-cutting events on Jan. 5 at Angelopolis mall and on Jan. 6 at the BUAP Cultural Complex. If you’d rather buy your own rosca de reyes, La Flor de Puebla (3 Sur #104, Centro Histórico) and Panificadora Roldán (8 Norte #1005, San Pedro Cholula) sell among the best in town. If you’d prefer to make your own, Mexconnect.com offers this poblana recipe. ¡Buen provecho!

Spreading the Joy

Antonio Prado and the good folks at the Spanish Institute of Puebla are collecting toys for the less fortunate kids in Puebla. You can help! Drop off donations of new or slightly used toys at the school (11 Oriente #10, Centro Histórico), from January 3 to 7 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The toys will be delivered on Sunday, January 9, by adults dressed up as the Three Wise Men.

“We go to the outskirts of Puebla, where there is no running water or electricity, and when the poor kids see us dressed as the Three Wise Men, they call their friends and normally within twenty minutes we will have about fifty young kids there,” Antonio says. “Once we give them toys we will drive another mile or so in the dirt road and do it again until we run out of toys. What has always amazed us is that once the kids see us instead of asking for toys they go running away to call their friends. …It is amazing the happiness these kids have from receiving these very simple gifts.”

Tríangulo las Animas is also collecting toys for charity as part of a city-sponsored campaign called Divertón. In addition, the mall will give children an opportunity to send their wishes to the Three Wise Men on Jan. 5 by tying cards to helium balloons.

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