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Rosca de Reyes, Last Of The Holiday Traditions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia   
Thursday, 09 January 2014 00:00


On Monday, Jan. 6, “Three Wise Kings Day” pro-immigrant activists and residents of District 23 in Bakersfield, CA, stopped by the office of Rep. Kevin McCarthy to deliver a Rosca de Reyes with a message: it is a wise thing to do to pass immigration reform in 2014.

The office, unfortunately, did not open even after repeated attempts to contact staffers inside.

The action was part of the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles’ (CHIRLA’s) latest efforts to pressure McCarthy to support immigration reform in 2014. But it also exemplified a tradi- tion that is very dear in Latin American countries, and that year after year grows in im- migrant communities in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles.

Jan. 6 is known on the Catholic calendar as Epiphany Day or Three Kings Day, believed to be the day the Three Kings cited in the Christmas story arrived in Bethlehem with gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense for the newly born Jesus.

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, this is the day when children receive presents, instead of Christmas. Children often write letters to the Three Kings, rather than Santa Claus.

Part of the custom is that the night before Epiphany Day, children put their shoes out, sometimes filled with straw, il- lustrating the journey of the Three Kings atop camels. Three Kings figurines are placed in the family nativity set, as is the baby Jesus figurine, who on that day is clothed and passed around to family members who sing and kiss him.

The Three Kings, also known as the Magi, were first described in the Bible only as wise men. It wasn’t until the 4th century that they were identified as three, and by the 9th century they got their present names: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.

On Epiphany or Three Kings Day, according to the Bible, they presented the Christ child with gold to symbolize him being a king, frankincense to praise him as a God, and myrrh (bitter herbs) to represent the suffering he would endure as a human being.

The tradition of “the Adoration of the Magi” or “the Manifestation of God,” as the celebration is also called, evolved with time as more rituals and symbols were added to it. A central point of the festivities is “La Rosca de Reyes,” a sweet though dry bread often accompanied by hot chocolate or milk.

According to legend, the “Rosca” has its origins in the Roman Empire that celebrated the coming of the New Year on March 1. The Romans baked round cakes made with figs, dates and honey to commemorate the start of the New Year. Inside the cakes, the Romans put a dry lima bean and the person who got the piece of bread with the bean inside was named king of the household for a short period of time.

Later, during the era of the kings of France, the person who found the lima bean would receive the gift that His Highness had prepared for the event. King Phillip V then imported the custom to Spain, where the Rosca was made to commemorate the end of Christmas.

Today, the bread often comes with pieces of dry orange and lime to resemble jewels. It is also filled with nuts, figs and cherries. Instead of lima beans, the bread contains small plas- tic figurines representing baby Jesus.

Tradition dictates that the person who gets the piece of bread containing the baby Jesus figurine has to provide food on the “Fiesta de la Candelaria” on Feb. 2, when all the candles are blessed in Catholic churches for the rest of the year.

This is the last day of the Christmas festivities, 40 days after the birth of Jesus. Once hard to find in the U.S., today nearly all Latino bakeries and supermarkets sell Roscas, often preparing them days ahead to supply the big demand. People often take them to their homes or places of employment to share with family, friends and co-workers.


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Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 01:01