The 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day, December 25th and end on the Twelfth Night, January 5th.
On January 6th, traditionally the last day of the Christmas season, is when we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day.
In Mexico, Spain and other Latin-American countries it is when children receive the majority of their gifts from the Three Kings rather than from Santa Claus at Christmas.
Before going to bed the children place their old shoes or a box filled with grass or hay under their bed for the camels with a wishlist on top for the Three Kings. In the morning the shoes or box is filled with toys & gifts from the Three Kings.
According to legend based on scripture (Matthew 2:1-12) this day commemorates the Three Wise Men, Melchior, Gaspar and Baltazar, who followed the star to Bethlehem, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They travel to Bethlehem, and along the way encountered King Herod, whom they tell of the birth of the new King. Herod orders them to find the baby and return to tell him where the Messiah could be found so that he may pay homage. After being warned by God in a dream that they should not return to Herod because he planned on killing the baby, they returned to their own countries another way.
The scripture does mention the three gifts but does not say how many came to visit. It was always assumed that if there were three gifts, then there were probably three people. Scholars estimate the number to be 2-12, possibly more. Are you wondering why they make such a big deal out of when the Kings came and not when the shepherds or others visited? It’s because the “Kings” (Wise Men or Magi) who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles (non-Jews) to acknowledge Jesus as “King” and in doing so, the first to reveal that Jesus came for all people, from all nations and races.
Rosca de Reyes – Three Kings Bread
Rosca de Reyes or Three Kings Bread is a round sweet bread traditionally eaten on Día de los Reyes.
The holiday is sometimes referred to as the Twelfth Night because it falls twelve days after Christmas, but is also known as Epiphany and marks the day the Wise Men are believed to have visited the Christ Child.
The bread is shaped in the form of a wreath and usually has candied fruit on top, and a figurine of a baby baked inside. It’s often simply called “rosca.” This sweet bread is similar to King Cake which is eaten in New Orleans during Carnival season.
In Mexico it is customary for friends and family to get together on January 6 to eat rosca. Usually each person cuts their own slice and the one who gets a piece of rosca with the baby figurine is expected to host a party on Día de la Candelaria or Candlemas, which is celebrated on February 2nd. On that day, the traditional food is tamales. Nowadays bakers tend to put several baby figurines in the rosca, so the responsibility for making or buying the tamales can be shared among several people.
Here’s more information!
4 Facts About Three King’s Day In Latin America.
1. Bigger Than Santa: In much of Latin America Día de los Reyes or Día de los Reyes Magos is celebrated in particular by children who receive gifts from the three Magi. Often, this tradition is more significant than Santa Claus: children usualluy make lists of gifts they would like.
On the night of January 5th, children leave their shoes outside the door along with grass and water for the camels. The next day, children wake up to numerous gifts left by the three kings or the reyes magos.
2. Edible Wreaths: In Spain and Mexico, one of the most important elements of Día de los Reyes is the Rosca de Reyes, or the Wreath of the Kings. A large, oval-shaped cake filled with sweetened dried fruit, the Kings Cake symbolizes a crown. A small white figurine representing Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake, commemorating the hiding of Jesus from Herod.
Whoever gets the slice with the figurine has to host a party on February 2nd or Día de la Candelabria.
3. Lima Discovered: Peru’s capital Lima was originally called Ciudad de los Reyes: legend has it that explorer Francisco Pizarro named it so because he discovered the ideal site for the city on January 6th.
4. Parades And Parties: Across Latin America and the United States, Latinos celebrate Día de Los Reyes in style with huge parades and celebrations thrown to commemorate the day. In Harlem, New York, a huge parade with giant puppets of the kings marks the day. Meanwhile in California, Disney California Adventure holds a parade. Across Latin America, people host lavish parties to celebrate the coming of the three kings.
What is rosca de reyes?
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How to eat Rosca de Reyes!
This religious meeting is usually done a few days before or after January 6 at the offices or places outside the home.
However for the family reunions they are normally held in homes on the sixth day of January in the evening, Epiphany Day or the appearance of the Wise Men or Magi Kings: Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar.
This tradition of eating together and sharing a rosca de reyes bread with a hot chocolate to remember the Holy Kings, is made as a snack or pre-dinner at an early hour in the late evening, so that children are present and can participate in the tradition of getting together to enjoy and share a slice of rosca de reyes.
It is important when you cut a slice, that on both sides of the rosca, does not appear the figure of the infant Jesus (plastic doll symbolizing Jesus newborn).
It is worth to mention that also a small showing inside may bearly appear in the sweet bread. Now in days another figure of a Wise Men of plastic may be hidden inside the bread, so that two people who are to split the party cost. It is said that the person who finds the baby Jesus, should put the house for a party on Candlemas Day on February 2. On this day your guest are expecting to eat tamales and Mexican appetizers, so it is important to re-join the same group that was present when the rosca was cut.
Incidentally, the person who finds the plastic wise man or Magi King in his or hers slice, normally must pay the costs of the party, in reality the expenses of the party is shared by both persons. It is considered to have good luck and that you are fortunate if you find the baby Jesus and/or the Wise Man.
The tradition of holding the reunion to celebrate the Day of the Epiphany comes from the middle ages in Europe, mainly from Spain and France. This tradition came to Mexico at the time of the early years of the viceroys.