The Roscón de Reyes and The Epiphany

Around this time of year it is great to celebrate the traditions that we hold dear to our hearts but it can also be fun to learn a little about how other countries celebrate the holidays.  Some of us Latinos celebrate what is known as Die de Reyes or King’s Day.

You may have more of a clue as to what this holiday means when I tell you that it is also known as Three Kings Day.  This is the day in which the Three Kings from the East also known as the three wise men also known as the Magi traveled to see baby Jesus and present them with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This is known as The Epiphany; the day that the son of god was incarnated into human form as Jesus Christ.

So how does one celebrate Three Kings Day?  While there are many traditions that go hand in hand with Día de Reyes this article is to be about the roscón de reyes.

Roscón de reyes is a traditional dessert that is eaten on King’s Day which falls on January 6th.  It is usually round or oval in shape and it has a special meaning that pertains to the holiday which is celebrated in many Latin countries and even in France.

The Cake

At a glance, roscón de reyes looks a lot like a Bundt cake or a fruit cake and it does share some similarities to both. It is baked in a roundish shape like a Bundt cake and includes fruit like a fruit cake. However, unlike both of those cakes, roscón de reyes is filled with cream at the center and there is another surprise hidden inside the cream. It is traditional to include a small figurine inside the cake for children. The cake is sliced up and served and all the children hope to have been given the slice with the gift inside.

The Roscon de Reyes and the Epiphany

The Roscon de Reyes and the Epiphany

The Roscón de Reyes and The Epiphany

The main point of the roscón de reyes and the Epiphany is that the cake and the gift inside reflect the gift that the Three Kings from the East gave to Jesus.  The figurine is sometimes of the baby Jesus himself and that variation hearkens to the story of Mary and Joseph who had to flee their home from King Herod who aimed to slay the baby messiah. Thus, the roscón de reyes and the Epiphany go hand in hand.

A Simple Recipe of Roscón de Reyes

If you want to try your hand at making Roscón de reyes here is a simple recipe.

  1. Blend sugar and citrus zest.
  2. Dissolve yeast with warm milk in a large bowl.
  3. Add the sugar and citrus zest plus 2 eggs, orange, flower, water and salt to the large bowl and stir.
  4. Add flower to the warm milk.
  5. Knead dough until it is smooth.
  6. Cover the bowl and let sit for an hour.
  7. Work the dough into a log about 30 inches long and two and a half inches thick then join the ends to form a circle.
  8. Place the circular dough on a baking sheet and put it in the oven at low heat for about an hour.
  9. Remove the pan, break an egg over the dough and place your dried fruits and candy on top
  10. And return the dough to the oven at 400 degrees for about another half hour.

If you venture to make the roscón de reyes send me some pictures, I would love to publish them here!

Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay

I dream of enjoying tereré in Paraguay… In many parts of South America, drinking tea is a much more social and culturally relevant practice than it is here in the United States.

For example, how often do you meet a friend or colleague at Starbucks for a drink? Probably pretty often.  But how often do you sit in a circle at Starbucks, prepare the coffee yourself and share the same customized cup?  Probably never.  But this is how the people of Paraguay enjoy their tea.

Drinking tereré in Paraguay is a lot like drinking Yerba Mate in Uruguay and Brazil. In fact tereré is also a tea that uses mate leaves but there is one crucial difference in the preparation that goes down in Paraguay; instead of being served hot, tereré is drank with cold water and some people even add ice cubes.

This is not a difference just for the sake of being different.  There is a very practical reason why Paraguayans drink the mate tea cold: it is hot all year round in Paraguay.

Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay – The Social Drink

So what is tereré?  In essence there is very little difference between tereré and yerba mate.  One important similarity is that that drinking of both yerba mate  and tereré is a very social event.

Groups of friends, coworkers and students can be seen all over Paraguay gathering in a circle and preparing their tereré gear which consist of the guampa (the vessel from which the tereré is drank, similar to the hollowed out gourd used in the mate ceremony) the bombilla (the filtered straw used to drink the tereré) and the termo (basically a thermos).

Once the tereré is prepared, all participants remain in a circle and pass the guampa around and drink from the straw.  However, unlike the Uruguayan mate ceremony, in Paraguay, they replace the water after each person has their share.  In other words, no one actually drinks the same tereré.

Enjoying Terere in Paraguay

Enjoying Terere in Paraguay

Another difference between the two drinks is that it is pretty common for Paraguayans to add additional herbs or even fruit juices to the cold drink although, purists look down on the whole fruit juice thing.  Termos and Guampas are often customized by their owner to express their personal style, support for a sports team or simply emblazoned with the owner’s name.

The history of tereré stretches back to the indigenous tribe of the Guaraní who invented the drink and like in modern times drank it in a ceremony style for communion and socialization.

The Social Aspect of Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay

Drinking tereré is considered a normal part of daily life in Paraguay.  It is also an important aspect of socialization and bonding among friends and family.  At its purest, drinking tereré is supposed to symbolize trust and community.  People gather, share the tereré and talk to one another just as you would talk to your friend at Starbucks. Of course, the process of drinking tereré in Paraguay is much more ceremonial than the manner in which we have coffee with a friend here in the States.

The Essence of Tereré

Of course, on the surface people drink tereré because of the mate leave’s natural antioxidant and energizing effects but the true essence of tereré drinking is to feel a close bond with the people you care about.  Not much about the ritual has changed over the centuries which speaks to the primal function of this tradition and the basic, human need that it fills.

The History of Bullfighting – Tradition or Enjoyment of Tragedy

The history of bullfighting has to be told with lots of facts that get misconstrued throughout the years.  One example, the bulls used for the actual fights are not starved for the fight, instead a specially bred charging bull is used for the spectacle that has a natural penchant to charge at moving objects-the fact still remains that an innocent animal is plucked, culled and ultimately executed for the amusement of a gawking rabble.

The history of bullfighting stretches back almost 2,000 years and its roots are archaic and planted in a time of un-enlightenment and barbarism. Not that we are all that much smarter nowadays but it seems almost insane to still practice a spectacle that has such primal origins.

The History of Bullfighting – A Brief Review

As far as historians can tell, the origins of bullfighting emerged from the Spanish War of Reconquest.  When the fighters grew weary from battle, they would engage in slightly less brutal practices as recreation.  They hunted game like deer and bear but even slaying a bear was not enough of a thrill for these ancient warriors.  Instead, they took to fighting the Iberian bull whose traits include aggression and a willingness to go to their death fighting.  This became a sport and soon, Spanish kings were organizing bullfights for their coronations and other important ceremonies.

The sport carried on throughout the centuries and grew to what it is today which is not very different from what it was as far back as the 1700’s.  Although when most people think of bullfighting they immediately think of Spain, the sport is legal and enjoyed by fans in other countries such as France, Peru, Ecuador, Portugal, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.  In fact the largest venue for bullfights resides in Mexico City, Mexico.

The History of Bullfighting - Tradition or Enjoyment of Tragedy

The History of Bullfighting – Tradition or Enjoyment of Tragedy

The Reasoning Behind the Fights

Fans of bullfighting cite a number of aesthetics that make the practice enjoyable.  The contest isn’t about winning or losing, it isn’t about who gets gored and who doesn’t, it’s not even about whether the bull dies or not.  Instead proponents of bullfighting say that is an elegant dance between man and beast.  The thrill is in seeing the skill and tact of the fighter who attempts to get as close to the bull’s charging horns as possible without being demolished by them.

The whole scene is very decadent and opulent: the matadors enter the arena wearing intricately embroidered suits that cost thousands of dollars.  There is a pageantry about the whole ordeal but also a savage likeness to the gladiator fights of ancient Rome that pit human against both animal and other humans.

Bullfighting is not a sport.  It is a show.  I for one abhor it altogether and cannot comprehend those who attend bullfights knowing that they will more than likely see the slaughter of an innocent animal.  While many fans say it is not the actual killing that is the main attraction but rather the composure in the face of danger, the grace, skill and elegance of the matador, the kill move is still a very precise maneuver that is lauded if done particularly well.

There are entire fairs dedicated to bullfighting and one example is the San Fermín Festival in Spain.  The history of bullfighting – the tradition or enjoyment of tragedy?  This is a question I answer with barbarism.  For however refined and civilized we humans can claim to now be, we still take part in this practice that stems from a very dark, violent and base era of history.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos?  That, I thought was the last thing that would ever remind me of the beautiful Mexican culture.  I was wrong!

If you are at all engaged in Mexican culture then you may have come across an image of a woman standing on a crescent moon, light beaming from her body and looking very grave yet chaste.  You may have even seen this image as a tattoo.  This is the Virgin of Guadalupe and she is essentially the Mexican incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ.

The Story of The Virgin of Guadalupe

The legend of The Virgin Guadalupe, is one that holds a very special place in Mexican culture.  The story asserts that the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego an indigenous peasant.  She commissioned the man to build a church but had one very strange request: that he first gather some roses.  The story took place in winter so the man was confused.  He didn’t know where he would find roses growing in the frozen landscape.  Still, he took the request on faith and sure enough, he found pristine roses growing from a frozen hill.

The man was amazed and took the roses to a priest who declared it a miracle but there was a further miracle: the roses had left a holy imprint of the virgin in the man’s poncho which he used to carry the roses. bThat image would become the design for all tattoos of The Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Surprisingly there has not been much variation as far as the designs of the Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos.  Guadalupe tattoos will almost always be about the same shape; that of a standing woman.  She will almost always be depicted in the same manner; her hands held together in prayer while she casts a glance soberly downward.  She will also always have the same sacred light radiating from her body.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

In fact the only common variation of the Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos is the bordering.  Some opt to surround the virgin with a canopy of other Mexican patron saints.  Some choose to envelop their Guadalupe tattoos in the sacred roses from the legend.  Some people even set the Virgin of Guadalupe to a depiction of the Mexican landscape.

The Cultural Symbol

Tattoos are not the only pieces of art that bear the likeness of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The symbol has become extremely important in Mexican culture both as a religious figure and a cultural one.  It can be seen emblazoned on flags, in churches and even banners calling for political action.  The Virgin of Guadalupe has donned street art and graffiti as well.

The Virgin of Guadalupe represents hope, a reminder to be virtuous and even a feminine deity figure as many Mexicans pray to her in times of need.  Virgin Guadalupe tattoos have even become a popular design for gangsters who see acceptance in the forgiving eyes of the saint.  They emblazon her likeness onto her body as a reminder that she will forgive all and act as their advocate to the Holy Father.

Whether she is represented as a tattoo, embroidered onto a t-shirt or sculpted to life by an artist, the Virgin of Guadalupe is inevitably a tie to the Mexican culture.  It spans religion, culture and art to become one of the most potent and revered symbols in existence in the modern world.

Coca and Andean Culture

How is it that coca and Andean culture are so intertwined?  There is somewhat of a complicated relationship between coca leaf chewing and the rest of the world but in Bolivia and many other South American countries, there is no complication.  While the U.S. may take issue with the practice of coca leaf chewing and the coca leaf chewing effect, the reality is that it is an integral part of Andean culture and has helped shaped many South American countries.

Effect

To understand how coca leaf chewing has ingrained itself in Andean culture you must understand what the practice is and what it does.

Coca leaves release a mild stimulant similar to the buzz you get from caffeine. Placing the leaf on the inside of your cheek (you aren’t supposed to actually chew the leaf) and combining it with a bicarbonate powder activates this stimulating effect.  The practice actually helps with the digestive process, acts as an appetite suppressant (which may or may not be a good thing) provides something of a boost of energy and even has anesthetic properties.

Coca and Andean Culture

Coca and Andean Culture

Uses

Because chewing coca leaves does so much it has been used in many different ways.  First of all it has been used for many many centuries.  The first evidence of coca leaf chewing in fact dates to prehistoric times.  Back then the practice was more akin to religious rites and closely tied with tribal myths. The coca leaf became a sacred plant and symbol in ancient times and would often be used as a sacrifice to ancient gods.

Today however the uses of coca leaves are much broader.  Workers use it to power them through the day and there are even coca breaks in the normal Bolivian work day similar to coffee breaks here in the U.S.

Coca leaf chewing has certainly made its way into the social culture of Bolivia where parties and gatherings often include coca leaves being passed around for members to share.  Coca leaves are often given as gifts as well and it is very common practice for a young family to build a coca garden on their property where they can grow the plant.

Still there are many coca leaf myths and the plant is still very much associated with mystical rites and tribal religions.  Coca leaves are chewed and predictions of the future are made.  It is used to bless a person and to protect him or her from curses.  It is also still offered up as a sacrifice to appease the gods.

Coca and Andean Culture – Varying Roles

Cocoa and Andean culture, which you can read more about in the article Festival Virgin de la Candalaria are inexorably tied but you also must understand that its usage varies a lot depending on where you go and who you interact with.  For example in some small villages, the leaf is so important that it is actually used as currency.

By and large however, if you visit Bolivia you will more than likely see people on the streets with leaves in their mouths and these people are using the plant for its most popular purpose: a mild stimulant.  In terms of usage it is no different than how we Americans order a cup of coffee or slam an energy drink to give us a boost.

The difference is that the coca leaf is a much more important aspect of Andean culture than coffee and energy drinks are for us.  It represents their history, heritage and even acts as a symbol for the working class.  There is no sordidness about chewing coca in Andean culture nor should there be anywhere else.

Grandparents or Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions

Unfortunately my grandmother passed away before I was born and my grandfather has lived in a different state than me for most of my life but I have seen firsthand my own mother become a grandmother and I have noted that her role in our family is conducive with that of grandparents of other Hispanic families.

The abuelos importance in Hispanic family traditions is far-reaching as they are involved in everyday family life matters.  The image of a granny and grandpa in rocking chairs on the porch riding out their golden years in peace doesn’t necessarily apply in many Hispanic families.

Instead Hispanic grandparents take active roles as leaders of the family and in households.  For one thing, most Hispanic grandparents opt to stay close to their children and their grandchildren.  I don’t think my mother could bear the thought of not being able to see my nephews any time she wished.

The paternal and maternal instincts of Hispanic grandparents don’t seem to dwindle with age.  In fact they only seem to get stronger.  As a result many Hispanic grandparents take an active role in raising their grandchildren-a role that is all the more pronounced and vital especially if both parents work.

How Does the Latin American Culture Value Grandparents

By and large Hispanic grandparents are relied on heavily in the child-rearing process, as providers of sage advice for all aspects of life, the anchors of the family support system, as authorities and links to our heritage and the conveyors of Hispanic traditions. Grandparents are absolutely indispensable in Hispanic families if only for the experienced advice they have to offer.

Grandparents or Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions

Grandparents or Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions

Generally, Hispanic grandparents are seen by their grandchildren as the kinder and gentler authoritative alternatives to their parents.  This can work against the entire family unit however since there seems to be an inherent urge for Hispanic grandparents to spoil their grandchildren.  Still, grandchildren tend to grow extremely attached to their Abuelitas and Abuelitos as a source of comfort and nurturing.

To their children, grandparents are counselors and mediators.  I couldn’t count on my fingers and toes how many times my brother-in-law sought my mother’s counsel regarding his fiery Latina wife (my sister, read my article Why Do latinas Marry Gringos).  I also couldn’t even begin to tell you how much my nephews have benefitted from my mother’s experience.

Where my sister is confounded with her 2 son’s behaviors, my mother recognizes them and knows how to deal with them.  That is not to say that my sister is incapable of handling complicated family matters (in fact quite to the contrary, after all she has one of the best examples to draw from) but there is a certain degree of experience that all mothers who are not yet grandmothers will gain in time but have not yet attained.

Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions – Steering the Ship

In my mind at least, grandparents or abuelos importance in Hispanic family traditions can be assimilated to a captain of a ship-righting the course when the gales threaten to cast it into oblivion and quelling internalized mutinies and upstarts. They are anchors in the strongest sense of the word and images of stability, warmth, wisdom of love within Hispanic families.

The Famous Evil Eye Amongst Latinos

Have you heard if the famous evil eye amongst Latinos?  To say that Latin America can be a place to find all kinds of wild superstitions would be an understatement.

In fact it may be more accurate to think of such superstitions as a basis for many Hispanic cultures.  The famous evil eye amongst Latinos holds varying degrees of validity and clout depending on which country you are in and who you talk to but there is no denying that this superstition has permeated Hispanic culture to the point that it is still relevant to this day despite its archaic roots.

What is Evil Eye

I remember hearing of the dreaded evil eye as a child but it was mostly in jest as my family didn’t give much credence to the superstition-at least not in any medical sense.  Instead my mother and her sisters would talk about the evil eye when someone gave them a cross gaze (usually from another woman).

The superstition has much deeper roots and some believe it to be an actual medical condition.  So what is mal de ojo?  The history of the evil eye can be traced as far back as ancient Babylon and Egypt.  In fact Egyptians used to paint their eyes with something like eye liner to protect them from the condition.

For Hispanics the idea that you can become ill from an envious stare or from the gaze of someone much more powerful from you came from Spain and South America ran with it.

The famous evil eye amongst Latinos refers to a gaze that is given usually unintentionally to someone and that intent look has the power to make the subject physically ill.  It is usually prevalent amongst babies and small children and can occur when someone simply looks upon a small child with admiration.  The child becomes ill, may vomit, may lose appetite, may incur a fever or engage in unstoppable fits of crying.

The condition is usually cured by passing an egg over the one inflicted with the evil eye in the shape of a cross.

The Famous Evil Eye Amongst Latinos

The Famous Evil Eye Amongst Latinos

The Significance of the Evil Eye Among Latinos

The superstition of the famous evil eye amongst Latinos most likely rose from the fear of weak or poor individuals for the strong and empowered.  The evil eye usually afflicts the weak, feeble, elderly or very young and just the malevolent look of a powerful and feared person was enough to curse an entire household.  The eyes after all have always been very telling of a person’s intent and have significant mental attachment to our spirits and thoughts. In many cultures it is a warning against envy as well.

The Practicality of the Evil Eye

In my opinion, people picked up on this tradition for valid reasons.  The eyes convey more information than we give them credit for and negative energy and the effect of ill intentions, even if not acted upon, have very real effects.

For me the evil eye is something that can be harmful in the way that surrounding yourself with negative people and being in a negative environment can be detrimental to your mind and body.

Can a person become medically ill form the evil eye?  Probably not.  The fact that symptoms accredited to the evil eye include sadness and fear is probably evidence that people who believe in the evil eye are grasping at straws and looking for any excuse to attribute their woes to.

However, I do believe that the evil eye has more of an impact on our psyches than we would like to believe. Surround yourself with ill and ill will come to you.

There are many other strange and culturally rich traditions in Hispanic culture, to know more about them check the section Hispanic Traditions.

The History of Tango Music

Breaking down the history of any musical genre is a daunting and near-impossible task.  Genres of music are not like physical inventions that can be traced to a singular point in time.  Rather, music is an amalgamation of moods, attitudes, social circumstances, emotional states and even geography.

It is impossible to pinpoint the birth of any genre because music is ultimately collaboration between people and it takes many shapes even in the infancy phase.

The History of Tango Music

So, what is Tango and how can its origins be traced?  For this we must turn our attention to late 19th century Argentina.

Argentina is widely considered the birth country of Tango music as we know it today but the truth of the matter is that the genre owes its style to influences that stretch far beyond the borders of Argentina.  Just upon hearing traditional Tango music, you will see what I mean.

You will be able to pick up on the exotic rhythms of Africa in the almost staccato nature of the 2/4 and 4/4 time signatures. Again, we may never know who incorporated African rhythms into Tango or how they were influenced by them but the infusion is undeniable.

Tango music also owes some debt of gratitude to Spain.  Spanish musicians were simultaneously developing what would ultimately help to shape the definitive Tango style in their Flamenco Tangos.

Spain and Italy play a further role in the formation of Tango music in the 20th century when European instruments were introduced in Argentina and subsequently integrated into the Tango ensemble.

An Argentine by the name of Angel Villoldo is credited with the very first Tango recording.  He played guitar and sang by himself and helped solidify the characteristics that we associate with Tango today.  One might say that he is the Godfather of Tango but who knows who he borrowed from and was influenced by.

That was back in 1905.  Somewhere around 1910, more instruments were being used to play Tango music which fleshed out the Tango sound and gave it a greater level of distinction as a genre of music.

The History of Tango Music

The History of Tango Music

The Music of the Lower Class

In the beginning Argentine Tango music was relegated to street hoods and young thugs.  The music was often played in brothels and other unsavory establishments where the “riff raff” of society normally convened.

The upper class outwardly disdained the music as it was seen as a bad influence.  This quarantining of Tango music to the poor and working class Argentine was not to last very long.  By 1913, the influence and aesthetic appeal of Tango music had reached as far as France and what was once taboo among the blue bloods of Argentina was now an acceptable and much enjoyed form of entertainment.

Influential Tango History

As with any genre of music, Tango was helped along thanks to landmark songs, recordings and artists.  Mi Noche Triste was a Tango song written by Pascual Contursi but sang by indelible Tango icon, Carlos Gardel.  The song became the blueprint for subject matter in Tango songs: heartbreaking tales of love and loss.

La Cumparista is widely held as the most famous Tango song of all time and was written by Roberto Firpo back in 1916.  To this day the song is recorded by Tango bands and orchestras and has been arranged in almost every conceivable style.

Tango Today

The history of Tango music shows us the mighty wave that Tango rode to popularity in the early 20th century eventually hit the shore and rolled back but it regained popularity once again in the 1980’s thanks in part to the TV show, Tango Argentino.

Today, Tango is experiencing a resurgence around the world as evidenced by radio stations, cable TV networks and new recordings dedicated to Tango.

Tango history intertwines itself with the history of Argentine culture.  While the history of Tango music requires a greater study than what I can get into here, and while a definitive point in time can never be named “the birth of Tango” for any music lover, it is a labor of love to seek out the roots of this enticing genre of Latin music.