What is Día de los Reyes?
The holiday season for most Americans ended in December with Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. However, many Latin Americans in the States and abroad also celebrate a holiday known as Día de los Reyes, which for many Latinx children is a second Christmas.
Día de los Reyes, known as Epiphany in English-speaking countries, is a Christian celebration observed every January 6th to honor the Three Wise Men Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar, and their visit to Bethlehem to give gifts to Jesus Christ. This holiday is celebrated by many people from Latin American and Hispanic countries, and some of us of Latin American descent grew up with this tradition.
The Night Before Dia de los Reyes
The night before Día de los Reyes, children place shoe boxes outside their homes with a wish list for the Three Wise Men and wake up to find gifts, toys, and candy the next day. During Día de los Reyes, a pastry called Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake, is served (“Rosca” means wreath and “Reyes” means kings). The Rosca de Reyes is a type of fruit cake that is baked in an oval shape filled with different jams or custards and traditionally topped with dried fruits. The shape of the cake symbolizes a crown, and the dried fruits symbolize the jewels that adorn the crown. A small plastic doll is placed inside, which represents the hiding of Jesus Christ from King Herod’s troops, and the person who gets the slice with the doll must host a party on February 2, Día de la Candelaria, and serve tamales.
I was born in Georgia but was raised in North Carolina from the age of five. My family is Mexican, and so every year until I was 12 we would travel to Mexico for winter break and celebrate Christmas, New Year’s, and Día de los Reyes with the rest of the family. I remember not receiving any gifts for Christmas, but the day before Día de los Reyes, my parents would tell me to leave a shoe box outside of our door so that the Three Wise Men could leave their gifts. I would also leave some grass and water out for the camels (this is like how American children hang stockings up and leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus). Sure enough, the next day, my shoebox would have different gifts, and, in the evening, we would eat Rosca de Reyes.
Over the last several years, my family has celebrated Día de los Reyes here; we typically go out and purchase the Rosca de Reyes from some of the local Mexican stores on the day of the holiday. We invite the whole family over and serve the pastry with a hot beverage, like coffee, hot chocolate, atole or champurrado (these last two are flour-based beverages of Mesoamerican origin). My nieces and nephews have grown up used to receiving their gifts on Christmas day, but for Día de los Reyes, they eagerly await to eat the delicious Rosca de Reyes and hoping that they can receive the slice with a doll. It is one of my favorite holidays that I look forward to every year.