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Sonoma County bakeries ready ovens for Three Kings Day

For many, the holiday season is over after New Year’s Day. But not in the Latino enclaves and other immigrant areas in the Bay Area, including the Filipino community.

In Sonoma County, many Hispanic bakeries are gearing up for the Feast of the Three Kings. The traditional Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake, takes center stage in this Christmastime tradition that is celebrated especially in the Mexican community on Jan. 6.

Some bakeries, like Tía María Bakery, have been getting ready for this day since early December, baking Roscas so that customers can taste them and place their orders by Three Kings Day.

“We offer the Roscas on Jan. 4-6, but we have a Rosca on display and we give bread samples every Wednesday in December,” said Cynthia Linares, Tía María’s administrator. “We started taking orders four weeks before, because on those days the amount of Roscas we have available is very limited, so we recommend that they order at least six days ahead of time.”

The Rosca is a colorful, oval-shaped bread that comes with shiny fruit toppings and sweet crusts. The bread is originally from European countries like France, Belgium and Spain. The Spanish brought the Rosca (or Roscón as the Spanish call it) to Mexico in the 16th century, where it now includes at least one baby Jesus figure inside. Tradition says that the person who finds the figure has a great heart, is charitable and will throw a party with tamales on Feb. 2, called Candlemas or La Candelaria.

The feast commemorates Epiphany, or the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus at Bethlehem. Though this isn’t as widely celebrated in Catholic churches in the United States, abroad, Jan. 6 is a big feast day.

Linares, who is Mexican, said that the Feast of the Three Kings or Día de Reyes, as it is called in Latin America and Spain, is a very special party for her family and for many Latinos.

“People get very excited. Last January I was short by at least 100 Roscas, because people look for it a lot,” she said. “For us, Three Kings Day is a day to share as a family and to value our traditions.”

Charles A. Coulombe, an American historian and a California native who is an author of many books, including “Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy,” explained that the Feast of the Three Kings and the familial sharing of the bread goes beyond being just one more holiday party. The importance of this celebration is to ensure the meaning of love for Jesus and the Holy Family, he said.

“Mexican culture is so deeply ingrained in Catholicism, and as a result embeds church practices in family customs,” Coulombe said during an interview from Austria, where he’s furthering his studies. “But I also believe that the sight of kings humbling themselves in front of a little boy, who is himself the greatest king of all, speaks of Mexican love for the great humiliated being, and vice versa. Furthermore, the Mexican love for the family is symbolized by the Holy Family in Bethlehem.”

Coulombe specified that Three Kings Day is not only popular within Mexican and Spanish culture, stressing that several Latin American countries and even cities in Canada and the United States follow this tradition as well as in some Asian countries.

“Practically all the countries of Europe and Latin America celebrate it, as well as Quebec, Puerto Rico, Louisiana and any other part of the United States where immigrants from those countries or their descendants maintain some of their ancestral customs,” Coulombe said. “In Eastern Orthodox countries, such as Russia and Greece, the emphasis on the Baptism of Our Lord leads to elaborate water blessings by priests, and things like diving into the water to retrieve blessed crosses.”

In addition, he said that during all these celebrations something like a Rosca de Reyes is shared and the partygoer who discovers the baby Jesus figure, a bean or a ring in his portion of the bread will be the one who reigns during the celebration. He adds there is also the tradition of children leaving their shoes outside to receive gifts from the three kings, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar.

A great chocolate pairing

The gifts are not the reason for the season of this get-together; it’s the power to share with other family members and friends and to honor traditions that date back thousands of years, Coulombe and other Rosca lovers like Linares said.

“People come to look for the Rosca to share it with the family. They pick it up in the afternoon when they leave work to go to celebrate with the family and celebrate the birth of God,” said Linares.

In Tía María Bakery they not only have the Rosca, but also the perfect drink to go with the bread.

“The Rosca is paired with a good Mexican chocolate, known as atole or champurrado. This year we are also going to be offering homemade punch.”

Champurrado is a thick, Mexican chocolate-flavored drink made with corn flour. The beverage is very popular in Mexico during the cold holiday season. (A somewhat similar porridge made with sticky rice is made in the Philippines and called champorado.)

In Sonoma, Little Maya Bakery also awaits the Feast of the Three Kings. Victor Manuel Macario, Little Maya’s manager, said the cake shop is getting ready to make about 800 Roscas by Jan. 6.

“For that day we prepare with more people, because we do make a lot of Roscas,” Macario said. “It is a very important tradition, it has been going on for years, because that day people come all day for their Roscas.”

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