Today is the last day of Christmas. Also known as the feast of the Epiphany, Three Kings Day or Dia de Reyes. In Mexico, as I had mentioned before, this means that children receive gifts from the Reyes Magos (Magi) instead of Santa. Traditionally the children leave a note for the Magi in their shoes, the night before, and place them under the Christmas tree or outside. The Magi respond by bringing them gifts the following morning, just as they brought gifts to the Christ child.
Living on the border, our traditions are a mixture of Mexican and American customs. This being said, as a child Santa brought most of our gifts on Christmas, and the Reyes Magos filled our stockings with treats and small toys on Jan 6th.
Also on this day, an anise and orange scented dough is baked in the form of a crown, and topped with dried and candied fruits to make the Rosca de Reyes( King Cake). The fruit is meant to represent the crown´s jewels, and inside the bread is hidden a small figurine of baby Jesus. The lucky person to find baby Jesus in their piece of bread is designated to bring tamales on Feb. 2nd to the Feast of the Candelaria, but that´s another story.
The rosca is usually served with hot chocolate and eaten at any time of the day or all day! One of the candied fruits used to top the rosca is called acitrón. Acitrón is made from a species of cactus, also know as biznaga, only found in Mexico. The candy is made by extracting the pulp from the cacti, cutting it into blocks, and cooking it in a simple syrup. The result is an opaque sugary block, firm to the touch, but soft and juicy on the inside. It is commercially sold in red and green tinted blocks or cut into strips. Acitrón is widely used in Mexican Cuisine, thus depleting the population of the cacti used to make this candy. Why am I telling you this?? I don´t think many people know this, especially Mexicans. So if you do eat a rosca today, please eat the acitrón and enjoy what surely is a true jewel of Mexican Gastronomy.