‘El Dia de los Reyes’ still a tradition hereabouts
After Christmas Day has been celebrated in most Latin American countries and Spain, the real day for exchanging and receiving gifts falls on Jan. 6, known as El Día de los Reyes.
This day honors the three wise kings: Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior — representing Europe, Arabia and Africa. They traveled from faraway places, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn Jesus in recognition of his divine nature.
One of the events held is a special feast, when families indulge in the Rosca de Reyes — wreath of the kings. This is an oval-shaped sweet bread symbolizing the crown of a king and richly adorned with dried candy and jewels, representing what kings normally possess.
Inside is a small hidden doll representing baby Jesus. This alludes to the hardships Jesus suffered under Herod, then king of Jerusalem who, via mystical signs, had been informed that a new king had been born.
After the feast is over, whoever gets the doll gets to host a party during the Día de la Candelaria in February, officially ending the festivities. El Día de los Reyes normally ends that evening, with tamales accompanied by hot chocolate.
This activity is the norm from Spain, later brought to New Spain and practiced in South Texas. However, as this region became part of the United States, and in large Latino communities across this nation, some modifications of El Día de los Reyes became apparent.
For example, in New York and in New Jersey, a massive parade is held to commemorate this event. In Chicago, there is a three-kings parade, and in New Orleans it marks the beginning of Mardi Gras events.
In the Rio Grande Valley, this event is celebrated on a smaller scale. While El Día de los Reyes is known and appreciated by local Hispanics, activities such as a feast enjoying a Rosca de Reyes — along with some hot chocolate, and some tamales later — have become a custom among local families.
Many bakeries in the Rio Grande Valley bake hundreds of Roscas de Reyes for faithful customers who flood in to join in solidarity with their next-door neighbor Mexico.
However, no massive parades nor other activities are usually planned, but the mere idea of practicing this solidarity and camaraderie with others indicates that this tradition, dating back centuries, is still very much alive in the Río Grande Valley.
Dr. Lino García Jr. is professor emeritus of Spanish literature at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com