January 6 marks Día de Reyes, translated as Three Kings Day. It’s a Catholic Mexican tradition that involves slicing a bread called Rosca de Reyes, which is only made once a year.
It’s non-stop work at Panadería Mana in Santa Maria to get 5,000 Roscas de Reyes into the hands of customers like Jasmin Guzman who celebrate this tradition every year.
“You get together, you make champurrado [thick hot chocolate]. My mom is making champurrado right now,” said Guzman.
Rosca de Reyes or Kings Wreath is a bread only made on January 6.
The unique bread is known for its orange essence, oval shape, colored sugar paste, and the baby figurines hidden inside.
Oziel Martinez is a baker at Panadería Mana. He said he grew up eating Rosca de Reyes, and it fills his heart to keep this tradition going for kids in Santa Maria.
Before the Rosca de Reyes go into the oven, there is one more step — bakers add acitrón, which is candied dried fruit that is traditionally died red and green.
Workers then go ahead and hide two or three baby statuettes. Why a baby? It represents Baby Jesus.
“This is typically known as the feast of the Epiphany, which is the feast day when the wise men went to meet Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” said Father Martin Cain, who is the pastor at San Luis Obispo Mission de Tolosa.
Father Cain added that the Mexican tradition of the bread is supposed to look like a King’s wreath with candied fruit symbolizing jewels on a crown.
The figurines are hidden for a reason.
“There’s the tradition of Jesus’ flight into Egypt because Harod The Great, when the messiah came, when the wisemen came and said they were looking for the newborn king, he was threatened by this,” explained Father Cain. “Jesus was hidden away in Egypt by his parents.”
The gospel says the wise men came bearing gifts: myrrh, gold and frankincense. Some families like Cristina Gonzalez’ still follow it.
“Kids will wake up, and they’ll be so happy to see that the three wise men brought them something,” said Gonzalez.
There’s more to it than just eating bread, though.
“If you get that piece of the cake that has one of the little statues of Jesus, then that means that you are supposed to host a party on February 2,” said Father Cain.
February 2 marks the presentation of Jesus to the temple.
Those who follow the tradition find it fun to see who gets the figurine.
“Sometimes we’ll get the knife and like go around and see, do we feel something?” said Gonzalez.
Some people will resort to all sorts of tricks.
“If you ever feel it, just keep it in your mouth until someone is not looking, you know,” said Guzman.
Because if you do, tradition has it, you make tamales.
“We love celebrating it, especially getting to see who gets to make tamales this year,” said Gonzalez. “It's really, really fun .”