Tag Archives: Day of the Three Kings

Christmas in Oaxaca: Three Wise Men and Rosca de Reyes

It feels like springtime here in Oaxaca, although we are still celebrating Christmas.  Yesterday was downright warm, with temperatures rising to the low 80’s, though nights can be a chilly 45 or 50 degrees.  Christmas here is an elaborate and lengthy celebration, starting on December 12 to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe and officially ending with Dia de la Candelaria on February 2.   The Three Magi, or Wise Men, arrive on January 6, for Day of the Three Kings or Dia de los Tres Reyes.

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

You have probably figured out that food motivates me almost as much as textiles.  So, this morning I was off again to the wondrous, expansive Sunday tianguis — portable street market — in Tlacolula de Matamoros, ten minutes from where I live.  I wanted to see what was in store for food preparations.

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Front and center is Rosca de Reyes, a round or oval fruit-studded sweet bread, a traditional delight.  Most Oaxaca celebrations are home and family centric, with a children’s gift exchange and a spin the top gambling game with whole nuts.  When you go visiting, it is customary to bring a small gift for children and one of these bread loaves.

Tucked inside the loaves are one or several little plastic dolls that symbolize the baby Jesus.  Whomever gets one of these dolls embedded in their slice of Rosca is obliged to host a tamale party on Candlemas.  Corn and tamales, symbols of sustenance, are interwoven into this and other Mexican celebrations.

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Today in the Tlacolula market the bread section was piled high with pan de yema, a sweet egg bread, shaped in the round.   The vendors were doing a brisk business. This year, bakers added decoration of sliced, canned peaches to accompany the candied dates, prunes, pineapple bits and cherries.

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Live poultry, like guajolotes and chickens, are a big item, too.  Add to that roses ($1 USD a dozen), huge papaya (10 cents each), mangoes, melon, strawberries, watermelon, avocado (5 cents each USD), and any number of types of other fresh fruits and vegetables at everyday bargain prices. For those who forget to bring their shopping baskets or buy more than they planned, there are specialty vendors who sell these, too.

ThreeKingsDay-15 ThreeKingsDay-12            I like to arrive at the market by 10 a.m. to take a leisurely stroll through the streets.  Before noon, there are not a lot of people and there is no line at the bank ATM located on church side street.  Later, it’s packed and it’s like bumper cars with people.

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Lunch is a special treat at Comedor Mary, located on the opposite side of the church on the street that borders the permanent market. Today’s special was albondigas con pollo — a picante broth with fresh ground and spiced chicken meatballs.  Amazingly delicious.

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This is the season to come to Oaxaca and stay a while.  It is a feast for all your senses.  And it is senseless to stay wrapped up in frigid northern weather if you don’t have to!  Feliz Año Nuevo.




Day of the Three Kings: Wise Men Bring Gifts to Children

For our photojournalism workshop we arranged a visit to a local family who have two young daughters, Paula Sarai, age six, and Mayra Belen age three.  We wanted to fully experience the joy of Day of the Three Kings (Dia de los Tres Reyes) through the perspective of the children.  Epiphany, held on January 6, is purely a children’s celebration and much more modest than the U.S. version of Christmas.


Here, Mexican children awaken early in the morning to find that the three wise men have delivered gifts under the Christmas tree while they are sleeping. Parents Pedro and Margarita tell us that it is traditional for girls to receive dolls or kitchen sets (cookware and dishes) and for boys to get trucks or bicycles.


It was late afternoon when we arrived at the family’s home; it was almost dusk.  After our warm welcome into the interior courtyard of the home, we  join the family around an elaborate wrought-iron table and chairs.  The children come to greet each of us with extended hands, excited to show us their gifts.

Then, Pedro asked us if we know about the special story of the house. No, we said. And he retells the story his grandfather told him 13 years ago:

Many years ago an old man was selling an image of Christ, going door to door in the village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Then, this was primarily a farming community and only the women were home during the day when the men were in the fields.  One woman was interested but said she needed to ask her husband if she could buy the image.  She asked the vendor to return.  When the husband came back from the fields, the man was nowhere to be seen and the husband asked where he was.  Only the crucifix was there leaning against a paddock.  The man and woman put the image inside the house.  They didn’t know if the vendor would return to collect the pesos he was asking for the image or to take the image back.  The vendor never returned.


Ever since, the family has looked after the image of Christ.  They thought, maybe they should return it to the church and they took it there and left it.  But the next day, there it was back in their house.  Again, they returned the image to church. And again, the image reappeared in their home. The image grew larger and then they couldn’t get it through the doorway.  So there it stays.  Now, it is behind a glass case, protected.  An altar is now before it and the place where it rests has become a small chapel where people come to pray and bring flowers.

Each year on May 3, the priest arrives to give mass and each year on this day the family changes the clothes of the Christ.  Three years ago, an anthropologist came from Mexico City, authenticated the statue and estimated its age to be 350 years old.  The grandfather is now age 95 and the figure has been here in this house during his entire lifetime.

Do you believe? asked the Grandmother Magdalena. I believe that God is everywhere, she says. We nod in respect.

After our visit to the altar, we gathered around the family dining table to share a blessing of the season.  Margarita passed homemade tostaditos (little tostados) of black beans, lettuce and queso fresco.

Paula and Mayra each take turns cutting the Rosca de Reyes.  Margarita serves traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate (hot chocolate made with water, not milk).  The girls quietly return their gifts, neatly repacked, under the tree.


Afterward, we reflected upon the experience of family cohesiveness, the cultural experiences we shared, our ability to take part in holiday celebrations, and the memories of our connection to people that will stay with us forever.


Rosca de Reyes for Day of the Three Kings in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

From January 4 to 7, the bakers in the village turn their attention to creating roscas de reyes, a traditional sweet bread adorned with conchas, candied figs, nopal cactus and red pepper strips.  For three or four days, there will be no other bread to buy.  We get our fill of this luscious cake-like treat.

Eloisa's rich, yeasty Rosca de Reyes

We are lucky.  Tenemos muchos milagros.  At Las Granadas Bed & Breakfast, Eloisa bakes Rosca de Reyes in her outdoor traditional orno or adobe oven. The oval or round loaves are sweetened, yeasty egg bread.

We see them piled high in the backs of flatbed trucks on their way to the village market.  For three or four days there will be no other type of bread for sale.  We get our fill of this luscious treat.


Find the tiny white plastic baby Jesus stuffed inside (each baker determines how many s/he will put in each loaf), and you will have the honor of  providing tamales and atolé for your entire family on Dia de la Candelaria on February 2,  40 days after the birth of Jesus. [My observation: In Mexico, the magic number seems to be 40.  Forty is the gestation time in weeks for women to have a “normal” birth.  Traditionally, women stay sequestered for 40 days after birth.  Moses and his people wandered the desert for 40 years.]

Recipe for Rosca de Reyes from Inside Mexico!  or try any egg bread recipe but only let it rise once.  Form the loaf into a circle or oblong shape.  Decorate with candied fruits and the concha (the little sugar buns that sit atop the rosca).  Don’t forget to stuff it with the little plastic Jesus figure.  If you can’t get that, then the fava bean used traditionally before plastic figures were available, will definitely suffice.

Buen Provecho!

We had ours with fresh steamed vegetables: green beans, choyote squash, carrots, along with quesadillas and toasted garbanzo bean soup, washed down with our favorite beer.