Dia de Reyes, also known as Three Kings’ Day or Epiphany, is a Catholic holiday celebrated on Jan. 6 each year. It commemorates the visit of the three wise men, Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar, to the baby Jesus and their gift-giving of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The origins of Dia de Reyes trace back to the 4th century, rooted in the Christian tradition. It has since spread widely across the Christian world and is celebrated in many countries throughout Europe, Latin America, and Africa.
In Mexico, children eagerly await the arrival of the three kings. On the night of Jan. 5, they leave their shoes by the fireplace or window, hoping the kings will leave them gifts. The next day, they wake up early to check if their wishes were granted — much like Christmas stockings and Santa Claus.
Another beloved tradition in Mexico is the Rosca de Reyes, a sweet bread shaped like a ring adorned with candied fruits and nuts. Hidden inside the rosca is a small figure of the baby Jesus. Whoever finds the Jesus figure in their slice “wins” the honor of hosting the La Candelaria celebration on Feb. 2.
In reality, finding the small plastic baby Jesus in the rosca is considered unlucky, as for most, the idea of having to host a party or at least buy tamales and drinks for the entire family or office is a burden after all those Christmas expenses.
For this reason, most roscas now contain multiple baby Jesus figures, thus spreading the expense over three or more people.
In years past, hotel chains and bakery guilds across Mexico have attempted to outdo each other by baking the world’s largest Rosca de Reyes. In 2018, this honor was taken by Yucatán for a mind-blowing 2-kilometer (1.6-mile) long pastry.
Rosca purists insist on the importance of sticking to the original sugary recipe, calling for little more than dried fruit, but bakers continue to up the ante by adding ever-large amounts of fillings, including hazelnut spread, cookie dough, and cream cheese.