In Mexico quake camps, a bit of holiday cheer for youngsters

Julio Dominguez Lozara, 33, looks on from the edge of the tent as his daughter Cynthia, 7, and her two sisters play with Three Kings Day gifts in the tent camp where they are living outside of their apartment that was damaged in the September earthquake in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. In Mexico, it is customary for people to give gifts on Three Kings Day every Jan. 6, rather than Christmas day. According to Christian tradition, Jan. 6 marks the arrival of three wise men bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A girl reads a note placed on a Christmas tree inside a tent camp where residents of Calle Independencia 18 have been living since their apartment building was heavily damaged in the Sept. earthquake, in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. In Mexico, it is customary for gifts to be given on Three Kings Day, Jan. 6, rather than Christmas Day. Children leave notes on the tree to request a present. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Former residents of Calle Independencia 18 gather in the tent camp where they have been living since their apartment building was heavily damaged in the Sept. earthquake, to receive slices of traditional Rosca de Reyes or kings' cake, as they celebrate ahead of Three Kings Day, in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. The pastries, along with toys, food, and other gifts, were distributed in celebration of Three Kings Day by Ayudame Hoy, a non-profit civil organization that has been assisting earthquake-displaced populations since September. In Mexico, it is customary for people to give gifts on Three Kings Day every Jan. 6, rather than Christmas Day. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A little boy rides a tricycle past a Christmas tree in a tent camp where residents of Calle Independencia 18 have been living since their apartment building was heavily damaged in the Sept. earthquake, in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. Without money to afford rent elsewhere, many of the families who occupied the 37-apartment building are still sleeping in the street outside or in a nearby shelter, as they wait to see when the condemned structure will be demolished and whether a new building will be put up in its place. In Mexico, it is customary for people to give gifts on Three Kings Day every Jan. 6, rather than Christmas Day. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Jeremy Franco Avila, 2, eats Rosca de Reyes or kings' cake, as he sits with his pregnant mother Carla Ivette Avila Hernandez, 22, in front of the tent where the family has been living since their apartment building was heavily damaged in the Sept. earthquake, in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. The cakes, along with toys, food, and other gifts, were distributed in celebration of Three Kings Day by Ayudame Hoy, a non-profit civil organization that has been assisting earthquake-displaced populations since September. In Mexico, it is customary for people to give gifts on Three Kings Day every Jan. 6, rather than Christmas Day. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman displays the figurine she found inside her slide of Rosca de Reyes or kings' cake, as former residents of Calle Independencia 18 celebrate ahead of Three Kings Day in the tent camp where they have been living since their apartment building was heavily damaged in the Sept. earthquake, in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. Revelers who find a figurine in their slice are charged with buying tamales for the group on Feb. 2. The traditional pastries, along with toys, food, and other gifts, were distributed by Ayudame Hoy, a non-profit civil organization that has been assisting earthquake-displaced populations since September. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Dulce Dominguez, 3, gets help from her grandmother Emma Alvarez, as she takes her new doll for a walk in the tent camp where they are living outside of their apartment building that was damaged in the September earthquake in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. In Mexico, it is customary for people to give gifts on Three Kings Day every Jan. 6, rather than Christmas day. According to Christian tradition, Jan. 6 marks the arrival of three wise men bearing gifts for the baby Jesus.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Children participate in a craft session and receive donated gifts as part of celebrations ahead of Three Kings Day, at the tent camp where former residents of Calle Independencia 18 have been living since their building was heavily damaged in the Sept. earthquake, in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. Toys, pastries, food, and other gifts, were distributed in celebration of Three Kings Day by Ayudame Hoy, a non-profit civil organization that has been assisting earthquake-displaced populations since September. In Mexico, it is customary for people to give gifts on Three Kings Day every Jan. 6, rather than Christmas Day. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Lizette Dominguez, 5, finds Three Kings Day gifts for her and her two sisters inside the tent where her grandmother and little sister sleep, in the camp where they are living outside of their apartment building that was damaged in the September earthquake in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. In Mexico, it is customary for people to give gifts on Three Kings Day every Jan. 6, rather than Christmas day. According to Christian tradition, Jan. 6 marks the arrival of three wise men bearing gifts for the baby Jesus.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MEXICO CITY — Toys and other gifts from parents and aid workers brightened the Epiphany holiday Saturday for children living in dozens of makeshift tent camps more than three months after a deadly earthquake.

The Jan. 6 holiday is commonly known as "Day of the Magi" in Latin America, and it's when children in Mexico traditionally receive gifts rather than on Christmas Day.

Uriel Martinez, an 8-year-old whose family lost their home in the Sept. 19 quake, woke up early Saturday to find a toy gun had been left for him overnight. That made him happy because he wants to be a soldier when he grows up.

"I heard the kings come, but then I went back to sleep," Martinez said.

The camp where the family is sleeping in a southern neighborhood of Mexico City is a motley assortment of tents pitched on boards with tarps strung overhead to keep out the overnight chill.

Nearby is the quake-damaged building at 18 Independencia Street where they used to live, and which they now enter only to use the bathroom for fear it could collapse. Authorities plan to demolish it.

But this weekend there was plenty of holiday cheer.

Kids devoured a "rosca de reyes," the "kings' cake" associated with the day. A girl walked hand-in-hand with a doll around a Christmas tree strung with streamers and ornaments, and a young boy pedaled a tricycle underneath laundry airing on a clothesline. One toy car was so big it barely fit through the door of a tent.

Luz Maria Alvarez, who is also living in the camp with her husband, children and grandchildren, said the adults and teens are stressed because they still don't know what will happen.

But "for the younger kids, living like this is still a kind of adventure and even more so on a day like today when we are all together," Alvarez said.

The nonprofit "Ayudame hoy," Spanish for "help me today," said it distributed some 3,000 gifts in quake camps in Mexico City and elsewhere. Some people are also still homeless in the south of Mexico after another powerful quake hit there earlier in September.

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