Three Kings’ Day is celebrated in México on January 6, Epiphany, and is based loosely on the visit of an unknown number of unnamed astrologers who visited the young child Jésus sometime after his birth, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh as recorded in the book of Matthew.
These visitors are known as Los Santos Reyes (The sainted kings) or Los Reyes Magos (The magic kings) and have been christened with the names Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar. Young children are told to leave out their shoes filled with grass for the camels of Los Reyes Magos and will be given a gift in return. Slightly older children may write a letter to Los Santos Reyes making a gift request which is tied to the string of a helium balloon and released to go wherever it is that Los Reyes are when they are not making gift deliveries.
January 6 is the last day of an incredibly long school vacation period and it never seems quite right that children have to wait until the very last day to get something new. Some families have therefore instituted gift exchanges on Christmas day so that there would be presents to enjoy during the vacation period as well. However, don’t think that Santa delivers to México, since everyone knows his sleigh won’t work without snow—or at least that is what I have been told.
Children in our area of México, seem to believe in the existence of Los Santos Reyes much longer than children in the U.S. believe in Santa Claus. On several occasions, I have listened to 11 and 12-year-olds passionately debate the topic, with most still firmly believing. Of course, given the other religious and cultural miraculous beings that belong to the Mexican people, like la Virgen de Guadalupe, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that their children want to believe, so it is so.
Gifts are often placed at the foot of the child’s bed to be discovered immediately upon waking. Sometime later in the morning comes the tradition of the cutting of the Rosca de Reyes (a round or oval shaped fruit cake). Each partaker must cut his or her own piece of cake. This is to ensure there are no trampas (cheating) since baked inside the cake are one or more plastic babies representing el niño díos (the baby Jésus). It is considered a sign of good fortune for the coming year if you find one of these plastic babies in your piece, although it comes with a catch, you must provide the tamales and atole (a corn-based drink) for the family gathering on el Día de la Candalaría.
Last year, not only did I find one in my piece of the rosca at the family gathering, but I was blessed with a second one at work. I was feeling pretty good about it initially and waited with open arms for some of the reputed good fortune to be laid upon me. However, I soon had to revise my opinion when a series of unrelated, unfortunate incidents made January into a most trying month. I figure that the two lucky charms canceled each other out, so no bestowed good fortune for me. I’d have to make my own. Additionally, I then had two separate events that I had to provide tamales and atole for, a double expense. What fun!
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Interested in learning more about Mexican holidays?
Check out A Woman’s Survival Guide to Holidays in Mexico!