The story behind a Mexican tradition: Three Kings Bread
To conclude the Christmas holidays, families gather on January 6th for the traditional Rosca de Reyes or Three Kings Bread. Some are familiar with this Mexican inspired tradition, but for those that aren’t, here’s a bit more about the history of this delicious dish.
The Mexican Kings Bread is made with a soft, spongy and sweet dough in the shape of an oval, unlike the rounded donut. Although each baker has its own recipe, the most common contains zest with orange extract or orange blossom water and is decorated with crystallized fruits, quince jam, and a sugary paste that is usually everyone’s favorite.
For centuries this deep-rooted tradition has gathered people to share this sweet delight, but it was not until the Conquest of the Spaniards, who gave it the distinct flavor and decoration that we all know today.
The history of the Three Kings Bread dates back to Ancient Rome, around the year 217 B.C when they celebrated the Saturnals, festivities in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. They began on the 17th and extended until December 23rd as gratitude for the crops and also the beginning of the winter solstice. The Romans made gifts and prepared rounded bread, where they mixed figs, dates, and honey inside the dough.
During the aristocracy of France, they fancied sharing, and on the feast of the Epiphany, a bread very similar to the current Three Kings Bread, named Gateau de Roi where a dried bean was placed in the dough was relished. The lucky person who received the piece of bread with the bean was named The King of the Bean, and throughout the day they were the host of a prominent party where they drank and ate in abundance. Pastry chef of Louis XV, named king at the young age of 5, prepared a Gateau de Roi, however, he replaced the bean with a gold medallion, hence the tradition of hiding a prize in this bread was extended, although the medallion wasn’t made of real gold.
Currently, stemmed from Catholicism brought by the Spanish, the Three Kings Bread has become a symbol in which the story of Joseph and Mary who lived to protect Jesus from King Herod is displayed, and it is why a plastic figure is placed inside the bread. The Three Wise Men traveled to deliver gifts to the messiah and managed to arrive on January 6th guided by the star of Bethlehem.
On this day children are presented with gifts as families gather to savor the delicious bread paired with a pleasant cup of hot chocolate. The lucky person to receive a piece of bread with a baby Jesus will be the godparent who has to take it to church and organize a celebration with savory tamales on February 2nd, known as Candlemas.
Happy Three Kings Day!