The Three Wise Men and La Rosca de Reyes: They extend Christmas
By Joe Olvera ©, 2012
When the Three Wise Men, or Magi, were chosen by fate to visit the little town of Bethlehem to bring gifts to the new-born Christ Child, little did they figure that some day in the distant future, they would be competing for attention with La Rosca de Reyes, a delicious concoction in the Spanish-speaking world. But, first to the Three Wise Men.
In the time of King Herod, King of Judea – after Jesus had been born – he had ordered the Three Wise Men to bring him news of the birth so that he too could pay homage. But, he had other plans. As the birth of Jesus had been prophesied, he would become the new King of the Jews, a title which already belonged to Herod. He would harbor no competition for his throne, which meant that his intention was to murder Jesus. The Three Wise Men continued on their travels to find Jesus, finding him in the little town of Bethlehem, led by the Rising Star.
Traveling from afar, the three Magi were Melchior – a Persian scholar; Baltazar, an Arabian scholar, and Caspar, an Indian scholar – who proffered their gifts to the baby Jesus, they knelt to him in honor and respect. Having heard of Herod’s intentions in a dream, they returned to the land of their births through a different route. Each was said to be a King in his own land. When Herod learned that the Wise Men were not to pass through his Kingdom again, he ordered the deaths of all the children in Bethlehem, in effect, to kill the new-born Jesus. The day was known as the Massacre of Innocents. However, his plan was thwarted because Jesus and his family had already fled to Egypt.
The three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were said to mean different things to different people. Gold was the symbol of Kingship, myrrh was an anointing oil, while frankincense was a perfume of sorts. Jesus survived King Herod, of course, and, thus was born a Mexican tradition and in effect a tradition throughout the Spanish-speaking world that on January 6, children would be given their presents celebrating Christmas, rather than on the more traditional day of December 25. Known as El Dia de Los Reyes, January 6 became the day in which the three Magi found the baby Jesus.
Just as in the traditional Christmas Day, children in Mexico and now in El Paso eagerly await the morning of January 6, when the Magi have left them their gifts. Children write letters to their favorite Wise Man asking for their favorite things. On the night of January 5, the figurines of the Three Wise Men are added to the Nativity Scene. Before going to bed, children place their old shoes under the bed or in the living room, where the Wise Men will leave their gifts so that the children will find them in the morning when they awaken. On that magic day, adults prepare a feast that will include the Rosca de Reyes – which is an oval sweetbread loaded with candied fruit – tamales, and hot chocolate. The Roscas come in all sizes – some as small as to feed two people, and some large enough for 20 people.
The feast, called La Merienda de Reyes originated in Spain and was brought to the New World with La Rosca taking center stage. Hidden inside each Rosca is a plastic figurine of the baby Jesus. As each guest opens his slice of bread, he looks for the figurine, giving a sigh of relief when it is not there. When the figurine is found, however, whoever finds it is obligated to provide another feast to take place on February 2. The knife which is used to cut the slices symbolizes the danger that faced the baby Jesus. As each guest opens up his or her slice, sighs of relief are heard that the figurine was not found. But, the joke is on everyone, because whoever found the figurine, it becomes a symbol of pride that they have been chosen to continue Christmas Day. On this day, known as El Dia de la Candelaria, the baby Jesus in the Nativity Scene is dressed in new clothes.
Hispanics all over the world, including El Paso, also celebrate one more day, on Feb. 21, when the Nativity Scene is put away. Another family feast of tamales and hot chocolate then marks the end of the holiday season. With so many Mexicans relocating to El Paso, celebrations such as Los Tres Reyes Magos and, of course, La Rosca, will continue to grow and flourish.