Traditions

The Last Day of Christmas
The Three Magician Kings
A Forecast for the Coming Year?

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Introduction
The Rosca de Reyes or King´s Cake is one of the customs celebrated in offices and homes throughout Mexico, especially in Veracruz.

Map of the Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf Coast
January 6
Today is the Day of the Three Kings. In Mexico, it´s called "El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos". Literally in Spanish, the Three Wise Men are called "the three magician kings".

Christmas and New Year's are past now with their lavish dinners and dances.

And today, in many parts of the Gulf of Mexico, it is the day when the children receive their gifts, not from Santa Claus, but from the Three Wise Men.

Several days ahead of time, children begin writing letters to the Reyes about the gifts they want them to bring for being good.

The King´s Cake
Just about everyone in Mexico celebrates this day with a Rosca de Reyes coffee cake with 5 or 6 little plastic dolls baked into the cake for good luck.

The plastic doesn´t seem to melt in the process.
Rosca de Reyes
Rosca de Reyes
The Big Event
The event of cutting the King´s Cake starts in work places, even in the offices, with the first coffee break and extends throughout the day at different times.

Then, at home in the evening with family and friends, to see how many little plastic dolls one can collect.

My Own Experience
Several years ago, I was staying at the home of some friends in Veracruz recovering from a case hepatitis I´d picked up sometime in early November.
Rosca de Reyes
Dreams of Good Food
By late December, there were little prospects of getting a job. My financial situation was also hopeless and it felt bad to be dependent on others.

For 3 months, my diet morning, noon, and night was restricted to a soup of chicken and liver as part of the treatment.

The only spices permitted were a couple of drops of fresh lime. They told me that this strict diet would be my lifeline to recovery from a potentially fatal illness.

Still I had dreams of good food, but I was told that if I deviated from the chicken gizzard diet, I might even die.
Rosca de Reyes
The Tamales de la Candelaria
A Timeless Tradition
The tradition in Mexico is that the "lucky ones" who find a little plastic doll in their slice of the King´s Cake, will have to pay for the tamales for the traditional Feast of the Candelaria, or Candlemas on February 2.

I had made it through Christmas and New Years without getting any sicker and was on the road to recovery.

On January 6, my friends brought out the Rosca de Reyes, and someone else had brought some family size cokes.
Rosca de Reyes
El Muñeco
My Situation was Hopeless
Still, I was in kind of a hopeless mood watching everybody having a great time.

My turn came and they gave me a little slice.

Carefully picking it apart, I found I had gotten one of the little plastic dolls.

Later, when they gave me another slice, I was lucky to get another little plastic doll!
Rosca de Reyes
El Muñeco
The Tamales of La Candelaria
People exclaimed,

"Such great fortune, John! You will buy tamales for the Feast of the Candelaria!"

Inwardly I scoffed at the idea, and thought they were making fun of my situation.

I could barely afford the price of a coke and a hot dog.

Rosca de Reyes
El Niño Doctor de Tepeaca, Puebla
A Year of Good Fortune Ahead
Later, a friend told me,

"Seriously, John, this will be a year of great fortune for you."

"The two little dolls are a sign that your luck is about to change. "

"You will get well, and later when you have the ability to work, los Reyes will send you the job that is just right for you, and your financial problems will be over. "

"That has been our experience in Mexico, John."

My Luck Changed
By the time the Feast of the Candelaria came around that year, I still didn´t have the money to buy my share of the tamales.
Tacos
A Change in Diet
We had tamales, but they were bought by others who had good fortune.

However, 6 months later, I got a job in Cd. Del Carmen which was just right for me. A couple of months later I was back on an even keel with my financial problems.

A year later I went back on the Feast of the Candelaria and bought the tamales for everyone. Now, I join in the fun.

About 4 years ago at the office I got 5 little dolls all during the day, and it was a year of great fortune that included a vacation trip to Peru and Ecuador.
Rosca de Reyes
Rosca de Reyes
This Morning
El 6 de Reyes has become a personal tradition with me.

This morning I went to the Soriana supermarket and bought two Roscas de Reyes for friends who are coming over tonight.

I wonder this year how many "muñequitos" I will get, and what kind of year I will have.

A happy life is for those who chose to believe that good fortune is just ahead, and those who watch for the signs to confirm that it is true.

Oh, yes, the fruitcake is good, too!

Back to the Traditions Section