The Three Wise Men Tradition in Mexico

Los Reyes Magoz y su Tradición en México

January 6 is an important date in Mexico because we celebrate the Epiphany or the Three Wise Men Day, which we actually call Three Magi Kings Day. According to the Christian tradition, a few days after the birth of Jesus, three men from the East came to pay homage to him, each bringing him a gift: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

On this day, Mexican families gather to celebrate this important biblical passage and share the traditional Rosca de Reyes (Kings’ Wreath) that is accompanied with hot chocolate. In some regions of Mexico, this day is even more observed than Christmas itself, and not because of its spiritual importance, but because it is the Three Wise Men who bring gifts to children, not Santa Claus.

Neither Kings nor Magi

It is worth mentioning that the only Gospel that speaks of these men is the Gospel of Matthew and there is no record there that the men who went to pay homage to Jesus were kings, nor that they were three. However, it does mention the three gifts, and their high value led to the assumption that they were three men with a lot of purchasing power.

On the other hand, the word magi comes from the Persian magusha, which means wise. For this reason, it is currently accepted that they were actually wise men, perhaps astrologers, since it is specified that they followed a star, and that they came from the Middle East.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

Although the Bible does not specify the meaning of each gift, each one contains a very special symbolism in Judeo-Christian cultures:

  • Gold: This metal symbolizes divinity and, since Jesus was born into humble surroundings, it might have been affirmation that he was a king despite appearances.
  • Incense: Symbolizes holiness and justice. It comes from a resin that gives off a very pleasant smell when burned, which is why it was used in worship offerings. As a gift to Jesus, it might represent his willingness to give himself in ministry and sacrifice.
  • Myrrh: It is a resin that is used to embalm. As a gift to Jesus, it might have symbolized his death as a human and resurrection as a divine being.


Rosca de Reyes

The Rosca de Reyes, or Kings’ Wreath, also has great symbolism and a lot of tradition. It is an oval-shaped sweet bread that is flavored with orange blossom water and garnished with sugar crusts and candied fruit. This bread originates from the Roman Saturnalia, festivals in which bread made from figs, dates and honey was distributed among commoners and slaves. With the rise of Christianity in Roman territories, such as France and Spain, this bread has come to represent the crown of each of the Wise Men.

Rosca de Reyes

During the Middle Ages, a dry bean that implied fortune began to be placed inside. Currently, in Mexico, several figures representing the Child Jesus are placed inside. In order for each one of those attending the celebration to take their piece of bread, they take turns. If someone’s piece contains a figure of the Child Jesus, they will be part of the group that will share tamales on February 2, Candlemas Day.