December 30, 2005

A Visit from Three Kings

By Frances Chaparro, Estela Muñoz and Adrian Zamilpa

It’s Christmas Eve; the children have been put to bed and on the coffee table sit a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. Thoughts of new toys and stockings stuffed with candy and other goodies make the night seem extra long for the children. They can hardly wait for Christmas morning to arrive.

For many families, December 25 is the day when everyone wakes up to represents left behind by Santa Claus. This is also the last day of the Christmas holidays. But in areas throughout Mexico, such as our neighboring Júarez, families still have a couple of weeks to go before the day for exchanging gifts arrives.

After December 24, when the last posada has been celebrated, they wait until January 6 for El Día de Los Tres Reyes (Day of the Three Kings). This day celebrates the arrival of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar at the place of Jesus’ birth.

The day is also known as El Día de Los Reyes Magos (Magi) in Spanish and Epiphany in English commemorates the divinity of Christ as manifested to the Magi, the kings who brought him gifts. For this reason, children in various parts of Mexico traditionally send their request for gifts to the Wise Men, as opposed to the children in the United States who send their letters to Santa.

On the night before El Día de Los Reyes, the children fill their shoes with hay and leave them outside. It is believed that the Wise Men will stop at each home to feed their horses, leaving gifts in exchange for hay.

Finally, El Día de Los Reyes arrives, and the whole family wakes up to open the gifts left by the Three Kings. However, this is only the beginning. On that day, family and friends gather, while the children keep busy playing with their new toys.

The adults continue with the day’s activities by preparing a big dinner and serving a very special dessert, a bread known as La Rosca de Reyes or Three Kings Bread. Folklorist John West says the crown-shaped, glazed bread is traditionally made with walnuts, grated orange peel, raisins and candied cherries. A tiny doll representing Jesus and a coin are also baked into the bread.

The person getting the coin in their portion of bread will have good luck during the new year. The person who receives the doll has to host a party known as La Fiesta del Monito, or celebration of the doll. The fiesta is held February 2, on El Día de la Calendaria (Candle-mas). Candlemas celebrates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of the infant Christ in the temple. Candles are traditionally bless-ed on this day, and the figure of the Christ Child is raised from the nacimiento.

The days of Los Tres Reyes and La Calendaria are old traditions that are still celebrated in areas throughout Mexico. But they are being forgotten by many Mexican families. Having relatives throughout the United States, many people are adopting American customs. Thus Santa Claus is quickly replacing the old traditions.

Still, for others, especially along the border, it is important to keep both cultures an important part of their lives. They celebrate Christmas morning with presents from Santa and continue with the Three Kings and La Rosca de Los Reyes on January 6, ending with Dia de La Calendaria and La Fiesta del Monito on February 2, an interesting blend of traditions.

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