While many deem New Year’s Day the end of the holiday season, we Latinos like to keep the celebrations going. Only a week after the New Year’s Eve festivities comes Dia de Los Reyes on January 6th. This holiday, also known as Three Kings Day, Feast of the Epiphany, or 12th Night. Now I am not a devoutly religious person, but I do enjoy learning the culture and history of the traditions that my family has passed on to me. It is not only a holiday to gather, feast, and give gifts to the little ones, but also Dia de Los Reyes has some fun and symbolic traditions in Mexico that truly bring the holiday to life.
Simply put, Dia de Los Reyes celebrates the discovery of baby Jesus as well as the gift presentation by the Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men or Three Kings). According to the stories and biblical passages, the Reyes were named Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar. They traveled for twelve days following the star of Bethlehem across the desert on their horse, camel, and elephant respectively to find the divine child. The Reyes brought him symbolic gifts: gold to represent purity and royalty, frankincense to represent divinity and amplification of consciousness, and myrrh to represent man and mortality.
Día de Los Reyes = Mexico’s Christmas
There are many similarities between Dia de Los Reyes and Christmas. Nowadays with the ease of communication, media, and the internet, a lot of Mexican families celebrate both holidays and have created their own traditions when it comes to the celebrations. In my family, it’s become less about gifts and more about spending time together sharing our traditions.
In the days preceding Dia de Los Reyes, the children write their wishes and gift requests in a letter to the Reyes. Some go as far as placing them in helium balloons and letting them go, others simply place them with their shoes. That’s right, on the eve of Dia de Los Reyes, children place their shoes outside their door for the Reyes to fill them with gifts. Children also leave hay and water out for the animals instead of milk and cookies for Santa Claus.
Now being that it’s a Mexican tradition, you cannot forget the fiesta! Many families attend mass. Town and city squares at or near the church are decorated. Parades pass through the squares with three chosen citizens dressed up as the Three Wise Men followed by some music and performances. And of course, there are lots and lots of food options: tamales, tacos, stews, pan dulce, champurrado, and the iconic Rosca de Reyes. Mexico City is known for its mile-long rosca celebration that takes place every year at El Zocalo. The whole rosca does not fit in a single picture!
Rosca de Reyes
Besides being a delicious treat, the Rosca de Reyes is filled with symbolism that represents the holiday. Its oval shape and hollow center represents a crown. The dried and candied fruit are said to represent either the jewels that would be on a crown or the gifts that were brought to baby Jesus by the Reyes or both; this detail is unclear, but it is delicious! The rosca has at least one small figurine meant to symbolize the hiding of baby Jesus to protect him from King Herod. Finding the figurine is one of the most beloved traditions. Whoever does find it gets to host the next gathering and make tamales on February 2nd for Dia de la Candelaria or Candlemas. Guess who got the baby Jesus in her slice of rosca this year? That’s right! Tamales at my house! How do you celebrate Dia de Los Reyes? Is this your first time hearing about it? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!