Rosca de Reyes
In most places, the holiday season seems to be over. Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year came and went. However, Mexico has one more celebration happening on January 6th, and a tasty one, I must add. The Rosca de Reyes happens on a day known as “Three Kings Day” or “Day of the Three Wise Men” or Epiphany.
Epiphany Day Origins
This lesser known tradition in the United States is widespread in all Latin American countries and some European nations. According to Western Christianity, the Epiphany, which means revelation, refers to the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. Celebrated 12 days after Christmas, on January 6th, when the Three Wise Men visited the Christ Child by following the stars. Traditionally, the Three Kings symbolized Europe, Asia, and Africa, and they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh representing those regions.
The Epiphany celebration comes with a few customs, such as church services, blessing of one’s home, Epiphany singing, winter swimming, and the tastiest one of all, Three Kings Cake or Rosca de Reyes.
First King Cake
Also known as Three Kings Cake or Twelve Night Cake, this traditional King Cake dates back to 14th century France. It was dry french bread with some sugar on top and a bean inside. The person that got the bean would be treated like a king for the rest of the day.
Eaten uncommonly, it was a ritual on its own. Customarily, the first slice of cake was for a stranger or a poor individual. In the second place, was the people from the King’s army, and lastly, the rest of the guests got their slice of cake. After a while, this tradition took root in other European countries like Spain, Germany, Portugal, Greece, and later on, in Latin America.
Today, the Rosca de Reyes is made out of sweet dough with dried or candied fruit pieces. You can even find them filled with chocolate or custard.
Rosca de Reyes Symbolism
Every element of the Rosca de Reyes or Roscon de Reyes has its meaning.
The round shape of the Rosca de Reyes represents a crown, like the one worn by the Three Kings Melchoir, Gaspar, and Balthazar when visiting baby Jesus. Others, see the crown shaped cake as an association with the eternal love of God that has no beginning or end.
The candied fruit implies the jewels from the Three Kings’ crowns. To others, it means the obstacles the Three Wise Men endure on their way to meet Christ Child.
The hidden figurines in the cake symbolized when the Virgin Mary and Joseph hid baby Jesus to save him from being killed by King Herodes.
Like many other traditions, the Three Kings Day and the Rosca de Reyes arrived in Mexico when the Viceroyalty of New Spain was established in the XVI century by Catholic missionaries.
Presently, Mexican families and friends gather on January 6th to share a delicious piece of Rosca de Reyes with a traditional Mesoamerican beverage, called Atole, a hot drink made out of corn and masa.
Atole is not only yummy, but it has also been attributed to have nutritional benefits like boosting your immune system, as well as providing nurturing for those experiencing illness or disease.
The Rosca de Reyes can also be paired with a Champurrado (chocolate flavor Atole) or hot cocoa.
Additionally, on the night of January 5th, kids leave their shoes next to the Christmas tree waiting for the Three Wise Men to give them presents by dawn, on January 6th.
The Rosca de Reyes can have anywhere from 4 to 12 little figures of baby Jesus, depending on the size and portions of it. The person who gets a baby Jesus will be in charge of organizing a party and getting the tamales and atole for Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemass) on February 2nd.
Dia de la Candelaria
This holiday is an interesting mix between Prehispanic Mexican traditions and the ones brought up from the Spanish conquistadors.
At the beginning of February, the Mexican Rain God, Tlaloc, was honored, marking the beginning of the agricultural cycle.
From all crops, corn is considered sacred in the Mexica culture as is the base of the Mexican civilization. Therefore, any offers made out of corn were considered higher than any other. This is why on this day the celebration’s main dish is tamales: corn meal deliciousness in a package.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they matched this Mexican traditional celebration with the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, also known as Candlemass. They linked this celebration to the Rosca de Reyes on Epiphany day.
These days, in some indigenous communities in Mexico, people will take their seeds to the temples to be blessed on Dia de la Candelaria.
Classically, Christmas decorations will stay in the homes up until February 2nd, so no holiday cleaning yet.