rosca de reyes
Rosca de Reyes, a crown-shaped cake for the arrival of the Magi
La Reynera bakery in San Carlos, TX, made about 200 roscas this year
Photo: Edyael del Carmen Casaperalta Velazquez

For children in Spanish-speaking Catholic countries, and in many Hispanic families of the U.S., January 6th is as eventful as Christmas Day.

If Santa did not deliver the anticipated present, children have a second chance with the arrival of the Three Wise Men ““ Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The night before the sixth, children write letters to the magi requesting them to leave gifts under the Christmas tree. This tradition emerged from the biblical account of the three magi from the Orient who, guided by the Star of Bethlehem, arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to honor the child God.

But no celebration of the arrival of the Reyes Magos could be complete without an edible gift, too — the traditional, Rosca de Reyes (Kings’ Cake).

The Rosca de Reyes is a delicious, oval, doughnut-like sweet bread decorated with crystallized fruit and sugar. Along with its tasty legacy, the rosca has remained central in the celebrations of the Dia de Reyes because of its profound religious significance.

Biblical accounts state that King Herod believed the birth of Jesus represented a threat to his power. Thus, after hearing of his birth, King Herod ordered the execution of all children in Bethlehem. It is believed that children, included Jesus, were hidden in order to be protected from Herod’s wrath.

To symbolize the hiding of children in Bethlehem, several miniature plastic figurines are hidden inside each rosca. (Originally, the Christ Child was represented by almonds or lima beans, but with commercialization of the pastry have come flashier child figurines.)

Finding the figurines is an additional fun event. Those who find a figurine in their pieces of rosca are responsible for hosting a party on February 2nd (Mardi Gras). They are also responsible for reimbursing the cost of the rosca to the original buyer.

The ingredients of a rosca are simple: flour, eggs, milk, fruit, and of course, magic. If you find yourself this January 6th, near a Mexican bakery, enjoy the delicious rosca, and do not forget to accompany it with a hot cup of chocolate.

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