Rosca de Reyes is a sweet bread which is a special food for Three King's Day, known as "Día de Reyes" in Spanish, and celebrated on January 6. The holiday is sometimes referred to as the Twelfth Night because it falls twelve days after Christmas, but is also known as Epiphany, and marks the day the Wise Men are believed to have visited the Christ Child. "Rosca" means wreath and "reyes" means kings, so a direct translation would be Kings' Wreath.
The bread is shaped in the form of a wreath and usually has candied fruit on top, and a figurine of a baby baked inside. It's often simply called "rosca." This sweet bread is similar to King Cake which is eaten in New Orleans during Carnival season.
In Mexico it is customary for friends and family to get together on January 6 to eat rosca. Usually each person cuts their own slice and the one who gets a piece of rosca with the baby figurine is expected to host a party on Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas), which is celebrated on February 2nd. On that day, the traditional food is tamales. Nowadays bakers tend to put several baby figurines in the rosca, so the responsibility for making (or buying) the tamales can be shared among several people.
Symbolism of the Rosca de Reyes
The symbolism of the Rosca de Reyes speaks of the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph's flight to Egypt to protect the infant Jesus from the slaughter of the innocents.
The shape of the rosca symbolizes a crown, in this case the crown of King Herod from whom they were trying to hide the infant Jesus. The dried fruit on top are jewels on the crown. The figurine in the rosca represents Jesus in hiding. The person who finds the baby Jesus is symbolically his godparent and must sponsor the party when he is taken to the temple to be blessed, celebrated as Día de la Candelaria, or Candlemas, on February 2nd.
Make a Rosca de Reyes:
You can get your own rosca by ordering online from MexGrocer. If you host a get together for Día de Reyes, you should let each guest cut their own slice of rosca, so whoever gets the baby figurine will have no one to blame but themselves.
Rosca de Reyes is very similar to what is known in the Southern United States as King Cake, and the provenance of the custom is the same, but King Cake is eaten during Mardi Gras celebrations.
Pronunciation: rows-ka de ray-ehs
Also Known As: King's bread, King Cake