Cuba is a tiny island with a big personality. A lot has rocked the island in the recent past: the US embargo has been lifted, and Fidel (ptu) has died.
Despite all the change in the political climate, some things stay the same. Tradition and family are still together, both on the island and in the states. One of these traditions is a beloved holiday kin to Christmas time, the day of the three kings or Día de los Tres Reyes Magos.
Christmas celebrates the day that Jesus was born, and if you've ever seen a nativity scene, you know that he and Mary were visited by three wise kings who brought gifts for their savior. The holiday is named after those three magic kings.
Three Kings Day occurs on January 6th, twelve days after Christmas (that's the twelve days of Christmas-- not the twelve days until Christmas where they play Harry Potter marathons on ABC Family). This is the day that the kings finally reached the manger, not Christmas.
Like Christmas, it is a gift giving holiday. It's a much smaller scale than Christmas, usually just a few small gifts per relative. But the traditions begin before this, on the eve of the holiday to make certain preparations. Each member of the family needs to get one of their shoes, put it in front of the hearth or fireplace, and fill it with straw for the camels to eat (they lived in the desert, of course they all have their own camel).
THEN, we exchange gifts from the three magic kings, early in the morning. During the day, a cake is baked for later, but with a small surprise. Before putting it in the oven, one drops in a ceramic figurine of baby jesus (if you're Cuban, there's usually crosses, popes, and Jesuses everywhere). The baby Jesus stays hidden until after a traditional cultural meal-- personally, we always have pork tenderloin with arroz amarillo. For dessert, the Jesus cake. Family members watch with anticipation as the cake is served an slowly eaten in small bites. The lucky one who finds the baby Jesus in their piece of cake will have good luck for the whole new year!
Each year I see that my family changes; we grow older, but not necessarily wiser. We've been through a hell of a rough year after dad's cancer scare. Money is tight as always, we can't always afford a nice life, but we can afford time for each other and our culture. Sometimes its hard to feel fully Cuban in a society that condones outsiders; this day, at home with my family, I feel the most connected with my family's roots.