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Spanish Secrets: Have You Heard The One About...?

…The day’s celebrations began early for us with a trip to the supermarket. Three Kings simply wouldn’t be Three Kings without a chunk of Rosca. This traditional Christmas cake resembles a large, holed doughnut. Once baked it’s sliced into two halves and filled with cream, custard, or in our case a glutinous apple jelly. It’s topped with sweet candied fruits and sprinkled with sugar…

In this tasty column Craig Briggs allows us to share in the wonder and delight of a Spanish Christmas,

Here in Spain the traditional exchange of Christmas gifts takes place on the sixth of January. According to the Julian calendar, this date represents the day Jesus Christ was born. On this day, three wise men, or kings as they are known here, travelled to Bethlehem. They carried with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to impart to the new born child.

Like most religious accounts, Dia de los Tres Reyes (Day of the Three Kings), requires a leap of faith to link the historical facts into a believable story. Mankind has faith in abundance and what little facts there are, are undeniable. It’s hardly surprising then, that in Spain, young and old alike still believe in the gift of Christmas.

Contrast this benevolent tale to the one about the fat old man living in the frozen wastes of the North Pole. He wears a bright-red coat, jet-black boots and sports a bushy-white beard. His only companions are a herd of reindeer and a lonely group of hard-working elves. As everyone knows, this generous overweight old man is Coca-Cola’s answer to Saint Nicolaus; Santa Claus.

Like most clever marketing jingles its claims are totally unbelievable. It’s hardly surprising that no-one over the age of six believes Christmas has anything to do with religion. Most Englishmen are more likely to think that Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar are the latest overpaid footballers heading for Chelsea, rather than the first three men credited with seeing the new Messiah (that’s Jesus Christ, not Jose Mourinho).

On the eve of Three Kings, all children and many adults shine their shoes in readiness for the travelling kings. They’re placed on window sills or under a model of the nativity in expectation of receiving gifts from the Kings. Children leave a glass of sweet wine for them and straw or a bowl of milk for their trusty camels.

The day’s celebrations began early for us with a trip to the supermarket. Three Kings simply wouldn’t be Three Kings without a chunk of Rosca. This traditional Christmas cake resembles a large, holed doughnut. Once baked it’s sliced into two halves and filled with cream, custard, or in our case a glutinous apple jelly. It’s topped with sweet candied fruits and sprinkled with sugar.

Hidden inside the cake are two surprises. The first of these is a small toy. Ours contained a miniature representation of one of the Kings. The recipient enjoys good luck for the next twelve months. A slice of good fortune which Melanie gratefully received.

The other surprise is a bean. Besides the possibility of cracking a tooth, the beneficiary of this dried pod is also indebted with purchasing next year’s Rosca. Needless to say, I was the charmed recipient of this little treasure.

That evening we drove the short distance along the coast to La Cala. On the eve of Three Kings almost every town and village in Spain has a traditional procession. In La Cala it was led by a youth band If not tuneful they were certainly enthusiastic. Following the band came a battalion of scantily clad Roman guards and finally, three colourful floats.

Upon each float sat a King. He and his entourage flung candy into the excited crowd. Children and adults swarmed around the colourful floats. Like a flock of hungry pigeons they eagerly plucked boiled sweets off the surrounding roadside and pavements.

Within a few hours the streets were calm. The Three Kings parade had finished for another year. The Rosca on the other hand might take a bit longer.

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Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs




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