6. January 2010 18:12
While Santa is changing the tradition, most Mexican adults around Lake Chapala grew up believing that the Three Kings from the Biblical Christmas story bring gifts to good girls and boys on their feast day, January 6.
Gift giving on the January 6 El Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos (the day of the three kings or magi) was encouraged by the early Spanish missionaries to help bring emphasize the biblical story of the wise men who brought their precious gifts to the Christ Child.
Biblical references left the wise men shrouded in anonymity. Since the scriptures list three valuable gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh, custom has decreed a matching number of kings who are assumed to have traveled from far away lands in which the precious gifts were known.
By the fifth century, the magi were released from anonymity and received names. A mere 1500 years later their full identity had been established through legend.
- Melchor is the oldest king, an Arabian Sultan, bringing a gift of gold to symbolize the regal aspect of Jesus. He is presented as the elderly king with white beard astride a horse. He is the leader of the group and given deference due to his age.
- Gaspar is portrayed as the Emperor of the Orient. His camel carries priceless frankincense representing the natural divinity and Godliness of Jesus. The fragrant incense is used in temples and churches for prayer.
- Baltazar, a Nubian King and ruler of Ethiopia, arrives on an elephant. His gift is myrrh, one of the fragrant funeral substances. The myrrh at the manger reminds us that Jesus was born as man and would suffer a human death.
One of the country's oldest and still most traditional fiestas dedicated to the Reyes Magi is held from December 30 to January 7 in the village of Cajititlán, about 30 minutes from Chapala. Cajititlan is located about 10 km west of the Guadalajara-Chapala highway. The turn off is between the Oxxo and the abandoned arches in the tiny village of Calera about halfway between Chapala and the Guadalajara airport.
Mexico Insights Fiesta Tips:
- Some foreigners living at Lakeside are invited to join Mexican friends at Kings Day Parties.
- The dessert at the meal (usually served with Mexican Hot Chocolate) is a rosca, a rich ring-shaped sweet bread decorated with colorful pieces of dried fruit to represent the jewels of the kings.
- Amid giggling and feigned anxiety, each guest cuts her own piece of the cake. Those who find the small plastic Christ Child figure in the cake are the guests of honor at the party, and becomes the godparents of the Christ Child in the home’s nativity scene.
- The godparents (there can be up to 12 of the figures in a large cake) then host a tamale party for the same guests on February 2, El Día de Candelario (Candlemas) or the Day of Purification. During this celebration, the Baby is raised from the manger and is kissed by the guests. Other Christmas décor is removed after the February 2 raising of the Christ Child.
- You’ll find more about Candlemas traditions (including places to buy the best tamales) in this Mexico Insights Facts, Fables, Folklore and Fiestas column on February 2).
More Mexico Insights Information: Read Dale Palfrey’s article about the celebration of the kings in nearby Cajititlán in the January 2006 issue of Living at Lake Chapala at www.mexico-insights.com.
Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living
at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region,
in the state of Jalisco.
Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly
newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico
Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.
Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about
the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.