The popular tradition of the Day of Kings is a vital part of the Christmas and New Year celebrations in Mexico. Its origin is linked to the birth and adoration of the Christ Child, argue specialists Marta Turok, Cecilia Jurado and Lucina Jiménez.
Legend has it that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the days of the tyrant King Herod, three richly attired kings, called Melchior, Gaspar and Baltazar, arrived from the East. They came following a star that guided them to the exact place of the birth of the Christ Child.
The authors of the study “Popular traditions of December”, maintain that this is how the three wise men crossed the firmament mounted on a camel, a horse and an elephant. When they arrived at the child, they prostrated themselves in front of him and lowered their cargo of gifts.
“They offered him gold for being king, myrrh for being a man and incense for being God. As a reward, the three men received joy, love and peace”. That is why on January 5 of each year Mexican children receive gifts,” they say.
The children must have behaved well during the previous year, leave their shoes at the door, and write a letter to the three kings with their wishes. Almost always, toys are requested. In addition, in the home Nativity, the figures of the three kings are placed.
Children go to bed full of illusions and excitement. There is always someone who tries to stay awake as long as necessary to see Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar arrive, however, to date no one has seen the arrival of these three beings.
They, on their way to Bethlehem – because they continue doing that journey in evocation of the journey that took them to the Child God -, reward the good behavior of the little ones, leaving aside their shoes gifts such as sweets, toys, clothes, money, new shoes and other attractive things.
On January 6, the date known in Mexico as “Reyes’ Day”, dawns with the excitement of the boys and girls, who are cheerful and laughing out on the streets or are limited to the small space of their courtyards or rooms, to play and show off the gifts that those old wizards of the East brought them.
Also that day, but at night, adults tend to split the “Rosca de Reyes”, made with sweet bread and dried fruit. Traditionally, it had hidden a bean, which represented royalty, but that has fallen into disuse to make way for a human figurine that evokes the Christ Child.
That figure was originally made of porcelain, but for economic reasons it was gradually replaced by other elaborate plastic, as it has been to date.
Whoever finds the Christ Child in his portion of bread, agrees to invite all the participants to a party on February 2, Candlemas Day, which commemorates the quarantine of the Virgin Mary, mother of the Christ Child. With that party ends the Christmas cycle.
Late at night, relatives, godparents and guests, dine on tamales and atole at the expense of anyone who has found the Christ Child in his bread. “Both the three wise men and the custom of taking the child to the temple and then have dinner tamales, is in force in Mexico,” conclude the three experts in popular culture.