The Celebration of Epiphany is a Christian holiday celebrated on the 6th of January in Mexico. Families and friends come together 12 days after Christmas to remember when the Wise Men or Three Kings visited the newborn baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem to deliver gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. It’s a time to exchange gifts, just like on Christmas Eve, share a meal and, perhaps most importantly, enjoy a slice of Rosca de Reyes.
This lovely tradition of eating some delicious sweet bread was originally started in France in the 14th century before spreading to Spain and then further afield to Latin America, particularly Mexico and Argentina. Each country has their own traditions for the 6th of January but they all have in common the ritual of cutting into the Rosca de Reyes in search of something quite special.
In Mexico, the Rosca de Reyes is a ring-shaped, colorful, sweet cake which is decorated with caramelized or candied fruits. The dough is made from yeast and other traditional ingredients of flour, sugar, eggs and flavored with orange zest. It is commonly decorated with fruits but can also feature marzipan, cream or even chocolate sauce (perhaps even Nutella). A perfect drink to complement a slice of Rosca de Reyes is a hot chocolate, a perfect winter treat.
Traditionally the Rosca de Reyes is shared amongst the family and everyone takes a turn to cut a slice. Somewhere in the cake is at least one small plastic figure of the baby Jesus. The person who finds the baby Jesus in their slice of cake must host another get together on February 2nd, Dia de Candelaria, or day of Candle mass, and provide tamales, another traditional Mexican dish. Nowadays it’s also common to have plastic wise men too and the person who finds this must also help with the party on the 2nd of February. You might also find a Mary, Joseph or animals from the traditional nativity scene such as shepherds and sheep and the three Kings themselves. If you find one of the figurines, you will have good luck for the year ahead!
There are many symbolisms in the cake; the baby is hidden to symbolize the need to protect him from King Herod and the knife cutting into the cake symbolizes the danger the new-born baby was in. The circular shape of the cake represents eternal love from God and the decorative fruits symbolize distractions to protect the Baby Jesus from being discovered.
You’ll be sure to find Rosca de Reyes in all bakeries throughout Mexico at this time of year. A special place to enjoy a unique Rosca de Reyes is in Mexico City where the local bakeries get together and make a ginormous version of the cake that is more than 1,500 meters long, known as the Mega-Rosca, and present it in the central square of the city. Many plastic figures of Baby Jesus are inside and the same tradition applies, find one and you must provide tamales on February 2nd. This attracts hundreds of people so come early to grab your slice and enjoy this tradition in a uniquely fun way!