Celebrating the Day of the Kings

by Judy King 6. January 2010 18:12

 los_tres_reyesWhile 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.

          editor2-child editor1-rosca

  • 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.


1/8/2010 1:46:14 PM #

I'm not down in Mexico (I'm here in the States) but we just had our little get together to enjoy our rosca. I missed getting the little Christ Child figure by 1 slice. The bread itself is delicious.  

eddieMex United States |

1/9/2010 1:03:59 PM #

Hi Eddie. Thanks for the email and this comment, it is getting much easier to enjoy Mexican customs north of the border these days. I found Mexican grocery stores and shops selling boots, hats, CDs, etc. when I visited Iowa a couple of years ago.

Keep reading and if you have questions or topics you'd like for me to talk about be sure to let me know

judyking United States |

1/9/2010 10:06:35 PM #

This was our first year since moving to Mexico that we were invited to join Mexican friends on the tradition of the "Rosca de Reyes".  The deal was that, whoever got the Baby Jesus, had to choose between hosting a tamale party on February 2 or doing a strip-tease at the party (?).  We were not aware that there may be more than 1 Baby Jesus in a rosca.  My partner and I both got one so we're hosting the tamale party on Feb. 2.  I'm getting the tamales but we have not yet decided who's doing the strip-tease.  Can anyone validate this?  It sounds to me like some Pagan influence infiltrated a religious custom.

Grace Ducet Mexico |

1/10/2010 9:41:21 PM #

Hi Grace, welcome aboard the comment board. I'm so happy you were invited to a Three Kings Party, AND that you and your partner found the babies in the bread. I'm guessing that someone was teasing you and offering you a way to NOT host the next party.

I've attended several Kings parties and Candelaria parties, and have never heard any hint of stripping...in fact, a strip tease would be counter indicated at Mexican parties attended by both men and women -- not to mention kids. While men, and women do a dynamite job of double entendre joking, it is still exceedingly bad taste to share any type of "blue jokes" jokes in mixed company.
If that doesn't convince you, consider that with the average age of these communities and the average temperature of our homes at this time of year are further stripping deterrents! Leave the topic alone and it'll go away.

Don't forget the atole to go with the tamales--it's traditional!

judyking United States |

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About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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