Jesús Diaz, 21, and his family will gather to celebrate Día de los Reyes Tuesday and eat rosca, or Three Kings’ cake, but if he finds a plastic baby Jesus doll in his slice, he’ll have to host a party next month.
It is a tradition in Mexico and other Latin countries for families to celebrate the Día de los Reyes Magos, or day of the three kings, on Jan. 6,when the three kings visited the baby Jesus and brought him gifts, according to the Christian tradition.
Some Tucson families have been passing on the tradition for generations.
Families sit together at the table and eat rosca, a wreath-shaped sweet bread decorated with coarse sugar, sugar figs, citron, and dried fruit.
But what makes the sweet bread different from any other pastries are the few plastic dolls stuffed inside to represent baby Jesus.
If someone cuts the bread and finds a minidoll, they have to host a party with tamales Feb. 2, said Jesús’ mother, María Diaz, 53, owner of Tortilleria y Panaderia Real, 1427 S. Fourth Ave., a family run bakery that began making roscas a few weeks ago for the holiday.
She said the order of roscas has been up “quite a bit” this year compared to last year, when the bakery sold about 40 of the cakes.
Inserting the plastic doll is mostly a Mexican tradition that developed during the last century. Historically, the cakes had a bean or candy in them, but the finder of the bean and candy often shirked their party-hosting duty by eating it.
Like the Diaz family, Miguel Medina, 27, has been making dozens of roscas in the past couple of days as the lead baker for Food City’s bakery, 2950 S. Sixth Ave., which sold more than 500 of the small cakes last year.
He said that unlike roscas made in Mexico or at other bakeries in town, Food City, for liability reasons, bakes them without the dolls but includes the figurines in the box; customers stuff them into the cakes themselves.
But the celebration of Día de los Reyes is more than eating rosca.
It begins the night before, when children leave a pair of shoes out in the living room and wake up the next day to find gifts in or near their shoes, said Ramon Lopez, a manager at Food City.
“This holiday is the whole deal, the gifts, the get-together with family and the excitement of seeing if you’ll cut a slice with a little doll,” he said. “Because if you do, you better be ready to host a party.”
Some children leave grass and buckets of water outside for the three animals believed to have been used as transportation for the three kings: a camel, a horse and an elephant. The custom resembles another, when many children leave cookies and milk for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
The holiday is as important as Christmas for most people in Mexico, Lopez said.