By Caryl Delaney
Epiphany, Three Kings Day, Little Christmas or Dia del los Reyes is celebrated in many ways around the world. The traditions of this celebration – including the actual date of celebration – vary as greatly as those of Christmas do. Most countries and cultures share the idea that Jesus was visited by the Magi, but after that the meaning of this day branches off into a myriad of directions.
The Spaniards brought the tradition of celebrating the Epiphany and sharing the Rosca to the New World. Here in Oaxaca, particularly on the coast, it is a rather simple family holiday, mainly for children, neither a holy day of obligation nor a day off. Families buy a Rosca de Reyes made of flour, eggs, sugar, dried fruit and often orange or cinnamon flavors. Inside the cake there is a little figure of Jesus called el mono o el niño. Whoever bites into this little figure becomes the godfather or godmother of the little Jesus doll and gets to buy the tamales for all on Candelaria Day which nd falls on February 2 . (Last year I got three little figures in one Rosca and ended up having to buy 28 tamales!!)
In other parts of Mexico, perhaps those places more entrenched in traditional colonial Catholicism, the holiday brings on different activities. In some parts of Mexico children leave small gifts and sweets or put out their shoes the night before, much like stockings are left out on Christmas Eve. Shoes are stuffed with straw or hay for the Kings’ camels; in its place, the Kings leave little ones.
Similarly, in some places children leave a wish list letter for the Kings in their shoes. In others they attach the letter to a balloon to send it off. Just like with Santa, it is also traditional to have the children’s´ pictures taken with the three wise men.
In Mexico City´s La Almeda a verbena (street party) is held for the kids where an abundance of food, sweets, games and the like will be found on this day.
Last year in Merida in the Yucatan several public sectors got together and broke the Guinness record for the biggest Rosca ever – 1.3 kilometers long (.8 miles) and weighing 2,160 kilograms (4,752 pounds!!!). This year the Yucatecos are trying to break that record.
For some Reyes marks the crossing of the “Guadulupe Reyes bridge” and the end of the Christmas season. For others the holiday officially stretches into Candelaria. Here in Oaxaca, it is a charming, non-assuming holiday to enjoy the rosca, the niño, family and friends and a nice cup of Mexican hot chocolate.