Every January 6 the children of Mexico fill the country with laughter as they play with the gifts theyfound that morning in their homes. Who left them there, next to the Christmas tree?
They are gifts that the Magi, the Three Kings—Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar—bring the children each year just as they did more than two thousand years ago when they took gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Baby Jesus. Homes fill with the deep aroma of hot chocolate and bread: it is time to cut the traditional ring-shaped sweet bread called the Rosca de Reyes.
This custom originated in France in the Middle Ages when families came together around a sweet bread in the form of a ring, trimmed with sugar and crystallized fruit. A small pea was hidden inside it, a symbol of the persecution by King Herod of the holy innocents around Christmastime. This custom arrived in Mexico during the early years of the viceroyalty.
The rosca was originally made from white flour and yeast, sweetened with honey. Today it is decorated with candied orange, fig, dates, and nuts. A small doll is hidden inside and represents the newborn Baby Jesus. Whoever finds the tiny figure in a slice of rosca symbolically becomes a godparent and is charged with organizing a fiesta with tamales (pre-Hispanic food par excellence) and hot chocolate (delight of the gods).
In some places in Mexico it is still customary to hide a thimble and a ring in the rosca, besides the baby doll.
According to tradition, the person who finds the ring will marry soon, but the one who finds the thimble will have to spend at least one year unmarried.