Breaking Bread with Three Kings

One year I had the pleasure of spending much of the Christmas holidays in Mexico City, where “the holidays” basically means a long series of celebrations beginning nine days before Christmas Eve and climaxing on January 6 with the feast of the Epiphany or el Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (The Three Magi Kings Day).

Epiphany itself is a big day in Mexico City and throughout the country. For several evenings leading up to the day, many residents of the capital take their families to Alameda Central, the historic park in the heart of downtown. There they socialize with friends, enjoy the food and beverage booths set up for the occasion, and have their pictures taken with the Three Kings.

Though it’s been many years since my visit, I still remember vividly the spectacle of so many families and booths and lights and vendors and dozens and dozens of Three Kings. It’s apparently a money-maker for these trios of men (maybe women as well?) to dress up as the Magi, ham it up in character, and charge a fee for individuals and families to have a photo taken with them.

imageCloser to home – or to work, actually – my Latin American coworkers celebrate Epiphany each year with the sharing of la rosca de los reyes – the bread of the kings. This oval-shaped bread, often accented with candied fruits, includes a very small plastic figurine of a baby (representing the Christ Child) baked inside.

Not knowing where the baby is in the loaf, each partaker of the bread cuts her/his own piece and the “lucky” person with the plastic “prize” wins the honor of hosting a party – with tamales and champurrado – on February 2, La Candelaria or Candlemas Day.

imageAll who are present at la rosca are invited to the Candlemas party celebrating the 40th day after Christmas and the remembrance of Mary and Joseph presenting baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem.

For several years in a row, the privilege of hosting the party fell upon me – much to the delight of my coworkers. They seemed to enjoy carefully explaining the tradition to me and then roaring with laughter as I picked the baby out of my piece of rosca.

This year I was spared and I could sense the disappointment in the room. But I can already taste that champurrado.