January the 6th is a special day in Mexico, El Día de Reyes or Three Kings Day, is a holiday that represents the height of the Christmas season. It marks the culmination of the 12 days of Christmas and commemorates the three wise men who traveled from afar, bearing gifts for the infant baby Jesus. The children of Mexico in particular look forward to this holiday as traditionally, gifts are exchanged on this date, not on Christmas day.
In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, the three wise men are the bearers of gifts, who leave presents in or near the shoes of small children. The holiday is also known by the name of the Epiphany which dates back to the 4th century. A grand feast would be held on this day to honor the occasion of Jesus’ baptism and to pay homage to the three wise men.
Los Tres Reyes Magos
Many believe mysterious events preceded Jesus’ birth with perhaps the most notable being the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem. This new star appeared in the evening sky just prior to the arrival of Jesus. Three wise men or Magi as they were then known, whose names were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, traveled a far distance to pay homage to the Christ child.
The symbolism of the Rosca de Reyes speaks of the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt to protect the infant Jesus from the slaughter of the innocents. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-12
Herod’s reaction to these predictions was swift and horrible. He ordered his minions to murder all male infants recently born in Bethlehem. However, as destiny would have it, Mary and Joseph found their lodgings in a manger, not an inn. Herod’s henchmen didn’t think to look for an infant in such a location.
Three Kings Day remains an important holiday for the people of Mexico. In addition to the gift-giving aspect of the day there is also a culinary treat that is specific to the holiday. Known as ‘Rosca de Reyes’ (King’s Cake), this holiday dessert offers much in the way of symbolism The person who finds the baby Jesus is symbolically his godparent and must sponsor the party when he is taken to the temple to be blessed, celebrated as Día de la Candelaria, or Candlemas, on February 2nd.
The shape of the Rosca symbolizes a crown, in this case, the crown of King Herod from whom they were trying to hide the infant Jesus. The circular form of the rosca represents God’s eternal love which has no beginning or end. The dried fruit placed on top are jewels on the crown. The small doll inside the rosca represents the Baby Jesus who was visited by the Three Kings and hidden away from King Herod. The figurine in the Rosca represents baby Jesus in hiding.