While the holidays were long over for most of you reading this, I’m just now getting finished with the Christmas holiday celebrations. This morning, I finally got around to taking down my Christmas tree, and I’m finally ready to get back into the swing of things here in the blog.
What took me so long, you ask?
We were celebrating the twelve days of Christmas.
Growing up, I used to love to sing the song about the twelve days of Christmas, but, to be honest, I never really knew what that meant. Seeing that many stores publicize twelve days of Christmas sales that begin before Christmas, I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who didn’t understand!
So, what, exactly, are the twelve days of Christmas?
Basically, the twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days that begin with Christ’s birth on Christmas Day and end with the Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the three wise men. If you count the days, though, you’ll notice that the twelve days can either include Christmas day, the 25th of December, or the Epiphany, the 6th of January, but not both. After a bit of research, it seems that different countries choose which one to include.
Here in Spain, I’d have to say that the 1st day of Christmas is December 25th, and the twelfth day of Christmas, then, is the 5th of January. It is very common for people to refer to the day after Christmas as “El segundo día de Navidad,” or the second day of Christmas. In fact, until this year, my husband always had the second day of Christmas off, and we’d go out to eat to celebrate. This year, though, they decided to give the fisherman Christmas Eve off instead.
On the 5th of January, or the twelfth day of Christmas, we celebrated the arrival of the three wise men. Here they are referred to as the “Reyes magos.” On the evening of January 5th, they arrived at our city and paraded down the main street throwing candy to all of the observers. This parade is known as the “cabalgata” or cavalcade.
The 6th of January is known as the Epiphany. Just as with Christmas and Christmas Eve, some families choose to give out presents on the night of the 5th, while others wait until the next day.
When I was a young girl, we celebrated Christmas in Madrid, Spain one year.
At the time, most of the people we knew did most of their gift giving for the “Reyes.” They didn’t really celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus or anything like that.
I remember being afraid of the three wise men for some reason. Perhaps it was the thought that they didn’t “know me” as well as Santa did, or the threat of possibly getting coal in my shoes.
Yes, I had to set out my shoes, rather than a stocking, for the three wise men to fill with presents. On the night of the 5th, we headed downtown to see the big parade, and during the night the wise men snuck in through our balcony and filled my shoes with presents.
I was a good girl and didn’t get any coal!
After speaking with people around here, though, it seems that the custom here was a bit different, and nobody I have talked to had the custom of setting out shoes like we did in Madrid.
Over the years, giving gifts at Christmas has gained popularity.
This is mainly due to the fact that the Epiphany ends the schools’ Christmas vacation time, meaning that any gifts given that day won’t get much play time during the holidays. So, most people I know do most of the gift giving on Christmas, and save one or two smaller gifts for “Reyes”.
As last year, we brought our son to the parade, and went to my in-laws’ house right afterwards. You see, their house is much closer to the parade, and the wise men conveniently leave gifts for both my son and his cousin while we are away trying to get a glimpse of them.
How is the Epiphany celebrated?
Some people prefer to have the wise men bring the gifts during the night like Santa Claus and his reindeer. They open their presents on the morning of the Epiphany.
Most people that day have one last holiday feast before the kids go back to school, celebrating the end of the holiday season.
The most common food served that day is the roscón de reyes, or three king’s cake!
In the US, a version of the king’s cake can be seen at Mardi Gras celebrations.
The roscón de reyes is a ring-shaped cake that has a little figurine hidden inside. Sometimes the cake is a solid, sweet bread; other times it is cut and filled with some sort of cream filling. Most of the cakes sold in supermarkets come with a paper crown and have a little figurine and a dry bean hidden inside. It is said that the person who finds the figurine in their slice should be crowned king. On the other hand, the not-so-lucky recipient of the bean is supposed to be stuck with the bill for the cake!!
I tried making the cake last year, but it turned out a bit too dense, so I didn’t share my recipe. If I find a recipe I love someday, I’ll let you know. In any case, perhaps you’d like to check out my last year’s post anyway, to see how I made the candied fruit and the chantilly cream filling!
So, that’s about it.
We went out to eat a wonderful arroz a la marinera on January 6th, and the restaurant surprised us with tiny kings cakes after our meal to celebrate the holiday.
For the rest of the day, my son played with his presents, and went to bed early in preparation for school the next day.
It’s never as much fun taking the Christmas decorations down as it was putting them up, but I’m ready to move on and start the new year.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday season as well, and wish you a very happy new year!