Traditionally, Americans ring in the new year with a kiss, a toast and a glass of champagne, and pronounce the holiday season over. January represents an abrupt return to reality as we put those pesky new year’s resolutions to test, and try not panic when the Christmas bills come rolling in. The joy of Christmas is officially behind us. To the south, however, the most magical part of the season has yet to take place. In particular, all over the country on January 6th, you can find small children running to their shoes to see if the three kings have stopped in for a visit, leaving presents in their wake.
Dia de Reyes (Day of Kings) marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas, and honors the three wise men who travelled from afar, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the infant baby Jesus. In Mexican households, it is traditional for children to leave out a pair of shoes on the eve of Dia de Reyes, with a hand-written wishlist. When they wake up in the morning, the legend goes that the Magi, or the three kings, have come during the night and left presents for the children.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Mexican holiday without parties, parades, public celebrations, and feasts, including traditional dishes to be enjoyed with family and friends. The most important culinary treat of the evening is the Rosca de Reyes, a cake baked in the shape of a king’s crown. It is the consistency of a sweet bread, and is adorned with dried fruit to represent jewels. Not visible from the outside of the Rosca de Reyes, a tiny Jesus doll is baked into the dessert.
The doll tucked away in the cake symbolizes how the real Jesus had to be kept hidden from then-King Herod of Jerusalem. Herod had heard rumors that the new and rightful king of Jerusalem was soon to be born. Because he feared losing his power, he ordered his minions to kill all baby boys born around the time of Jesus Christ. They did not think, however, to look for a child born in a manger. Thus Jesus was safely hidden away similar to the effigy that is baked into the Rosca de Reyes. Whomever receives the piece of cake with the baby Jesus doll inside is then obligated to host the next holiday, Dia de la Candelaria on February 2nd.
There is a wonderful spirit in the air around the Christmas season.I believe much of this has to do with the extra effort we make to spend time with the people we love. Mexicans are really good at gathering together to celebrate both religious and cultural events all year-round, and it contributes to the strong family values for which they’re known.