The Christmas celebrations come to an end January 6th in Mexico, the twelfth night of Christmas or the Day of the Three Kings, with no less fervor than the proceeding five weeks of feasting and pageantry. Since the colonial days, January 6th, Dia de Los Santos Reyes, is the day that children traditionally leave their shoes outside for the passing Kings to fill with presents and goodies, which always appear as if by magic. This tradition, far older than Santa Claus, marks the arrival of the Three Wise Men from the East in Bethlehem, Melchor, Balthazar and Castor; who came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Infant Jesus. It is also customary to serve Rosco de Reyes or Crown of the Kings, a rich yeast bread shaped like a ring or doughnut. It is adorned with jewels of candied fruit and sugar with a tiny china doll or lima bean hidden inside representing the Christ Child.
When the cake is ritually cut, whoever finds the figure is crowned King or Queen for the day and chooses a consort to help rule the festivities. Then on Candelmas Day, February second, the winners are obliged to give a party for all their friends, un baile de com¬padres, a special day also honoring Godparents. This religious symbolism was apparently begun by the French Monks in the 13th Century who served Gateaux or Gallette des Rois on the 12th night of Christmas with a dried bean baked in it, which was to bring good fortune. Many believe that the custom to bake a bean inside a cake really dates back to pro Christian days. At pagan festivals or feasts of the fools, slices of cake were distributed among the participants and the lucky one to find the bean was king and ruler of the special event and presided over the dancing, games and buffoneries.
At one time the celebration of the Epiphany was also known as the Feast of Fools in the Old World. In Mexico, the two events were separated so that on December 28th, they celebrate El Dia de Los Santos Inocentes (Day of Holy Innocents) and on January 6th, they celebrate the Epiphany.
The bible story tells of how Herod, reigning in Palestine at the time of Christ's birth sent Three Wise Men to verify the birth of the miraculous child. Warned by an Angel in a dream that Herod planned to kill the Christ Child, Joseph and Mary tricked him and took Baby Jesus away into Egypt. Thus in an insane rage, Herod ordered the massacre of the innocents or children under 2 years of age in Bethlehem and its environs. This day has come to be a Fool's Day similar to Anglo Saxon April Fools' Day. It is time to play practical jokes and pranks called inocentadas in Spanish on friends and family members, to point out the innocence of others. One favorite trick is to borrow something of value from a friend and replace it with a useless toy and a note Innocent little dove you have let yourself be fooled, knowing that on this day, you should never lend a thing!" Be prepared for odd questions which require silly answers on this day to show you up for a fool and many other childish pranks played with good humor.
The festive tradition of baking the bread and crowning the Kings continues to this day. This celebration of the Epiphany involves a get together of family and friends at home to share a Rosca de Reyes. Families in Puerto Vallarta make gold and silver paper crowns to declare the rulers over their households. Little children parade about in extravagant costumes of Three Kings with fake mustaches and long false eyelashes to enhance their outfits. All this is done throughout the day, while munching crisp syrup drenched bunelo wafers amidst a sea of floating air borne balloons. According to some believers, if you tie your holiday list to a balloon and let it fly, your wishes will be delivered to the Magi. A delight for children of all ages.
The holiday festivities on the Day of Three Kings begins with a big bowl of fruit punch from Jalisco, made with a rich bodied homemade wine of wild cherries (vine de nance) alongside a tray full of the traditional delectable antojitos (see Index) including the popular favorite pumpkin seed tortillas. A festive treat at the table at this time of year in the state of Jalisco, noted for its abundance of pork, cereals, fruits and vegetables, is a huge alla or pot filled with a steaming stew or fricassee. In Puerto Vallarta, it is not uncommon to find a 'hole in the ground' steaming alla of birria, which is a whole kid or lamb, including the offals or insides, roasted in a clay pot sealed with masa dough and covered with dirt on the outside and sitting over a slow wood fire built in the ground. One need not dig up the backyard these days to prepare this delicacy; it can be made in a regular kitchen oven with choice cuts of available pork. The hearty chile ed meat is a meal in itself when served with lots of fresh hot corn tortillas and country style rice to sop up the savory sauce. All the family members are then invited to gather around a dessert table awash with a wide variety of sweet goodies including stuffed guavas and homemade pineapple candy. Note: Family members often means that a minimum of 40 people appear at the table counting 9 siblings with spouses and 3 children per unit. Everyone partakes in the Rosco de Reyes or Crown of Kings' Bread cutting ritual with the appointment of the King and/or Queen for the day's activities.
An appropriate starter for the late afternoon comida on January 6th in Puerto Vallarta is a cup of refreshing cold melon soup followed by a half portion of fillet of sole in a spinach casserole.
The supporting cast for the rustic meat entree of birria or an Indian pumpkin seed and pork fricassee features a country style rice and a skillet salad of peppers and onions for balance in texture, flavor and color. Baked guavas stuffed with creamed coconut with horchata (almond nut tea) provide the customary sweet touch to complete a traditional spicy hot Mexican dinner. The night's vigil is usually concluded with breaking the piñata and happy little children go off to bed in anticipation of more food, gifts and games at the next fiesta.
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