The Three Wise Men and Thousands of Happy Mexican Kids
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Los Cabos, Mexico
When I was a kid, I remember waking up very early in the morning, ran to the “nacimiento” and look for the toys the Three Wise Men had left for me. A “nacimiento navideño” (nativity scene) is a birth representation of Jesus Christ with small figures of the characters of the story, farm animals, hay and moss, placed in many Mexican homes during Christmas time until the second of February, the same way a Christmas tree is placed in a living room.
As thousands of Mexican children I used to write a letter on the previous days of the epiphany, 6th of January to ask for toys and candy to the Three Wise Men. The letter is placed in the “nacimiento” the same way is done with the letters to Santa Claus in the Christmas tree. In the morning of the 6th of January many happy Mexican children find their favorite toys and sometimes candy.
This celebration started the first years of evangelism in the “Nueva España” – New Spain, now known as Mexico, and it remains until today in the Mexican Culture. It is important to notice that this particular practice does not apply very much here in Los Cabos, since we have tremendous influence of the United States and Canadian Culture, so, for us “Cabeños” the European-American Santa Claus tradition is way stronger than the Three Wise Men Hispanic tradition.
Making a little bit of history and digging a little deep, we found out that there were not just Three Wise Men, the catholic church says there were four. Melchior, Caspar, Balthazar and Herod, but this last one didn’t want to recognize the fact. Now, some other theories point to a larger number, twelve; and neither one of them were kings or wizards, more likely very knowledgeable men from the orient. At the end, it seems that all of them were summarized in three, one representing Europe, mounted on a horse, one representing the Orient, mounted on a camel and one representing Africa, mounted on an elephant, even though, the history and the science are more realistic and says all of them rode in camels.
The gifts granted by the Three Wise Men to Jesus were gold because he was a king, frankincense because he was a god and myrrh because he was destined to save and die for humanity. The story of them making the trip to Belen of Judea is also involved in a veil of mystery; allegedly, a star guided them to the precise location where the birth of Jesus Christ was going to take place. Of course they made it.
In the Mexican culture, the 6th of January we also commemorate it by sharing an oval or round shaped cake; we call it “Rosca de Reyes” which in its interior contains several kid figures, representing the Jesus Christ child and the moment that Maria and Joseph hide him from the Roman Authorities. The fruits on top of the cake represent the jewels of the crowns of the wise men, and the rounded or oval shape the infinite love from god to humanity. Whoever gets the child figure on its slice of cake, will become a godfather and will have to dress the figure and make a party the second of February (the Candelaria day) for all the people present at the table; the feast will consist in tamales for all to enjoy.
After all, I, as a Mexican who grew up with this heritage, I hope we don´t loose this tradition, but the ever constant changing world doesn’t help much with our efforts to keep it alive.