Feliz Dia de Reyes (Happy Kings’ Day!)

Adoration of the Magi by 'El Greco' c. 1568.
Adoration of the Magi by ‘El Greco’ c. 1568.

(Or as you say in English, Happy Day of the Epiphany or Kings’ Day!)

In this Dia de Reyes, I’m at home, watching my favorite movie while taking a bite from my rosca de reyes. Crossing my fingers that me and my friend get stuffed soon so we don’t have to find the little white doll that means we will have to throw a party next time around, we read on the latest articles exploring the myths and traditions that gave birth to this famous celebration. In my country it is certainly famous, you don’t have to be Christian, Catholic or a religious person of any kind to celebrate this. This is a tradition celebrated regardless of your core beliefs. It is another opportunity to get together and as me and my friends put it “tragar!” (eat more!) and spend more time with our loved ones.

But as a history buff I am always curious on finding out about the traditions we celebrate. In the Tudor times, the feast of the epiphany marked the last day of the twelve days of Christmas. (Yes the Tudors celebrated Christmas big style! Not just the twenty fifth, but all the way to the sixth). The Feast of the Epiphany or Kings’ Day commemorated the three wise men who according to the gospel of Mark came to see the savior, Jesus Christ and brought him three gifts: Myrrh, Gold, and Frankincense.

These gifts are very significant because

as some biblical scholars have pointed out, were representations of Kingship and deity. The other school of thought was that the three gifts were meant to be seen as medicinal rather than material goods. Regardless of the significance, they’ve gone down into popular lore. Everyone today knows about the three wise men and their gifts. Their story has been parodied and represented countless times in plays, biblical dramas and comedy shows such as Family Guy or my personal favorite ‘The Simpsons’.

But what was the root of this story. Did it have another meaning? Some scholars believe that if Jesus did exist than he would not have been born on December 25 or anywhere near these days. Why? Because it is too much of a coincidence that Christmas date and furthermore, the entire celebration of the twelve days of Christmas with the pagan holiday of Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was a pagan Roman holiday that celebrated Saturn (Jupiter’s father and once King of the Gods) birth. Almost every pagan religion celebrated in like manner, by feasting on for various day. Winter Solstice after all meant the end of the cycle and the birth of another. May Day which was also celebrated in the middle ages had a lot to do with this holiday. It symbolized a fertility ritual in which the God and the Goddess had sexual intercourse and on the start of Winter Solstice, she gave birth to the Sun God.

When the Roman celebrations began, it was customary to celebrate with sweet cake. As the Christians officially recognized the birth of Jesus in December 25th, effectively obliterating centuries of pagan traditions and mixing old traditions with the new faith; the celebration of the twelve days of Christmas began.
With time the celebration evolved to the point that it was introduced in many countries of America (including my own) in the sixteenth century. With the introduction of Christianity, as before, pagan traditions were mixed with those of the new faith. While in my country we call this delicious pastry ‘Rosca de Reyes’ in other parts of the world such as Switzerland, the cake is known as gâteau de Rois  and in other places such as Greece it is much smaller.

Rosca de Reyes or Kings' Cake is called differently in many places that still celebrate this tradition. As with many Christian traditions today, it has its roots in pagan traditions. The feast of Saturnalia was celebrated with sweet bread, honey and dates. Naturally when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the evolution of this cake turned into what we know now today as Kings' Cake or Rosca de Reyes. Where ever you are, enjoy your cake! :)
Rosca de Reyes or Kings’ Cake is called differently in many places that still celebrate this tradition. As with many Christian traditions today, it has its roots in pagan traditions. The feast of Saturnalia was celebrated with sweet bread, honey and dates. Naturally when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the evolution of this cake turned into what we know now today as Kings’ Cake or Rosca de Reyes. Where ever you are, enjoy your cake! 🙂

So wherever you are, enjoy your cake and have a happy holiday time!

Sources:

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