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Vispera de Reyes: King's Day

On Three King's Eve, Spanish children put out straw, food and water for the royal animals and leave their shoes to be filled by the three kings. This tradition is based upon the story of the three kings who brought the gifts to baby Jesus This is the same as Epiphany that is celebrated in many churches. King's Day creates a frenzy in families, little children, and stores all over Spain. This is the traditional holiday, and the shoppers rush through stores and commercials to find the needed gifts they kept putting off. This is the time to wrap gifts, and open the closets to prepare them for the morning, and seeing in the outstanding expressions of the children their cheer and merriment. Also, bakeries prepare coal, blackened/grayish sugar lumps that look very much like coal, which is given to children, more as a joke than anything else. This is the twelfth night after Christmas and the three wise men will visit at midnight. The children leave barley in their shoes for the wise men's camels. Children go to bed early; some even search the skies for the Kings and their party as they cross the night from home to home placing gifts and pastries in each house. The next morning when they wake the barley is gone and gifts and candy are left in it's place. The Day of the Three Kings is also the time that families exchange gifts, but the main celebration is centered around children.

Lets talk about nougat. There are many kinds of nougat or turrón. The typical are Jijona (beige colored made with almonds, honey, etc.), Alicante (this is the hard nougat) and Yema (traditionally made with egg and much like marzipan with browned sugar on top). However now there are many kinds of nougat: marzipan, marzipan with fruits, chocolate, chocolate/truffle , chocolate/truffle and liquors, and the list could go on and on.

Christmas carols are as varied as Spain. Being that there are four major cultural groups, each has its own traditional carols. The only thing that is common throughout them all is the theme of the manger. The Nativity scenes are a big part of the decorations at every home. Children and adults spend a lot of time on this family project. Electric lights are used in all regions. It's not unusual to find that only the children are in charge of it. Some displays are small and simple while others are very elaborate.The manger scene is located in a very visible part of the house. The scenes are complete with towns, buildings, people, sheep, shepherds angels, traveling men and women, animals (chickens, cows, horses, donkeys, etc..), and of course the 3 kings with their entourage. The scenes are finished with grass or moss, a river and a bridge, sand, earth, and any other ideas you can think of. In many homes, the kings and their entourage are moved a little closer to the manger as the days go by. Then on January 5th, the kings arrive at the manger and deliver their gifts.


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