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Kings Bread is a Delicacy Fit for All PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia   
Thursday, 03 January 2013 05:20


The holiday season isn't quite over yet.

Sunday, 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 many Latin American countries, including Spain, this is the day when children actually receive gifts rather than Christmas. On Dec. 25, the gifts are usually clothes and other lesser items. Children write letters to the Three Kings, instead of Santa Claus, to ask for that special toy they really want.

The night before Epiphany Day children put their shoes out, sometimes filled with straw, illustrating 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.


Another central part of the celebration is the Rosca de Reyes or Three Kings bread, a circular sweetbread made to represent a crown with dried fruit representing jewels. The tradition also calls for small, plastic baby Jesus figurines put inside the bread, representing the way Jesus had to hide in order to avoid King Herod's decree of killing all newborn infants.

Large Demand

The bakery and restaurant chain El Gallo Giro is preparing for this day by baking 20,000 roscas, according to operations manager Manuel Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said they start selling the roscas a week before Jan. 6. Customer demand is greater at their San Fernando and Panorama City locations.

"It's truly an honor, it gives me great happiness that a tradition from my country is being adopted by other communities," said Gonzalez, in talking about the celebration, as immigrants from Mexico bring the custom to Southern California.

It has gained so much in popularity in recent years that even Disneyland is joining the Three Kings celebration.


Disneyland spokeswoman Michele Himmelberg told the Associated Press the Anaheim theme park "launched the Three Kings Day celebration last year as a test. It was a big success, particularly with the Hispanic community, and we're expanding it this year to a larger area." The park will host Three Kings Day from Jan. 4-6 at the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree in Frontierland. On display will be statues of the Three Wise Men bearing gifts, as well as little toy-filled shoes left out by hopeful children the night before in anticipation of gifts from the kings.

There will be Mexican folklorico dancing, mariachi musicians, photo ops with Disney characters and bilingual hosts offering facepainting, crown making and other children's activities. Food carts will serve sweet corn tamales, chimichangas, Mexican hot chocolate and the traditional rosca.

Origins of the Tradition

Also known as the Magi, the Three Kings were first described in the Bible as only 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 and 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 history, 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.

The tradition underwent changes in the Americas, transforming itself depending on the customs and resources of each country.

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 plastic figurines representing baby Jesus.

Tradition dictates that the person who gets the piece of bread containing the baby Jesus figurine that's been baked into the bread has to provide dinner 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.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 January 2013 05:25

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