It’s finally the day children in Mexico have been waiting for: Día de los Tres Reyes, (or Three King’s Day) and the day when the 3 Wise Men bring them gifts. Children leave their shoes outside filled with hay or dried grass for the animals the Wise Men ride, along with a handwritten note and awaken on Three Kings Day to find them full of wrapped gifts.
January 6th commemorates Epiphany – the arrival of the three kings — Melchor, Gaspar, Balthazar at the manger in Bethlehem to pay homage to baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Yesterday being Sunday, many families came into central Oaxaca to visit the churches and markets and buy necessary provisions for the planned family gatherings.
The celebration, as is usual in Mexico, involves cohetes (loud exploding fireworks) and special bread:
Rosca de Reyes (Ring of Kings) – a circular sweet bread representing a crown, and decorated with dried fruits and nuts. Families share this bread with a cup of atole or hot chocolate at night this time of year.
Last night, an amazing parade set off from the front steps of Santo Domingo. Three girls heralded the parade, dressed as angels or stars, following them were the three kings, then Joseph and Mary – holding a pottery calabeza representing Jesus, then assorted shepherds and townspeople, then the dancing girls holding giant silk flowers in baskets perched on their heads, and then finally church members took up the rear of the parade.
The costumed participants mingled in groups as they waited beneath the walls of Santo Domingo for the parade to begin, and parents took advantage of this, positioning their children in to stand with the three kings or Mary and Joseph so they could be photographed together. There were fireworks set off up and down the main pedestrian thoroughfare, and people selling candy apples, elotes, slices of Rosca de Reyes, and cups of hot atole as the crowd waited for the parade to start.
If you are offered a piece of Rosca de Reyes, be very careful. This bread also has a mini porcelain or plastic doll baked inside it, to represent baby Jesus. This denotes Jesus being hidden from King Herod in the original bible story. Whoever finds the doll within their slice is responsible for holding the next big party on February 2 — Candlemas Day (or at least supplying the tamales and atole). They are also responsible for taking the Jesus doll (or at least the one every Mexican family keeps in their home) to the church to be blessed on Candlemas Day.
Today is officially the last day of Christmas celebrations. There is no time to rest though, living in Oaxaca you can be sure there is always something happening.
Written by Jodi Fleming
Jodi has been volunteering for several months at En Via – you may meet her leading a tour to visit our women borrowers in the different communities surrounding Oaxaca