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Celebrating a Mexican tradition in Northern Nevada

A baker wearing a white apron stands over a wooden baking counter, sprinkling pink sugar from a big white bucket onto a partially baked Rosca de Reyes cake.
Natalie Van Hoozer
KUNR Public Radio
Carlos Almazán, the head baker at Carnicería La Chiquita, adds sugar to a Rosca de Reyes in Reno, Nev., on Jan. 3, 2023.

Lea en español.

With Día de los Reyes on Jan. 6, a Latino bakery in Northern Nevada makes a dessert called Rosca de Reyes to add to the celebrations.

As Día de los Reyes approached, bakers at Carnicería La Chiquita were busy preparing to bake hundreds of Roscas de Reyes. Head baker Carlos Almazán and his crew make the ring-shaped cake for Día de los Reyes, also known as Three Kings Day.

Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, is when it is believed the three wise men – Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar – presented baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

On Jan. 6, many in Northern Nevada’s Mexican community will enjoy one of these roscas with their family and friends.

As he made a rosca, Almazán explained the symbolism behind the sweet pastry.

“I had to form the dough into a circle, more like an oval shape, you put the little baby Jesus in the rosca,” he said. “The oval shape of the rosca is the infinite love for baby Jesus. It’s been in our culture for quite some time.”

Sugar, figs, cherries, and strips of papaya in white, red and green decorate the top of the rosca. Almazán explained the significance of the colors.

“It represents the Three Kings, los Tres Reyes Magos. It also represents peace, love and wealth,” he said.

On Three Kings Day, family and friends gather to eat the rosca. Some will find a surprise in their slice – a small, plastic, baby Jesus.

“You cut it with your relatives, with your friends and family, and whoever gets the baby Jesus, for Feb. 2, which is... Día de la Candelaria. That’s when whoever got the baby Jesus, the tradition was to dress up baby Jesus, take him to church,” he said. “That person’s also responsible to provide dinner, which is tamales in Mexico, that’s the Mexican tradition.”

The tiny plastic figure symbolizes the hiding of the baby Jesus from King Herod’s troops.

Consuelo García, the store’s co-owner, said Carnicería La Chiquita started making Roscas de Reyes when they expanded and opened the bakery in 2018.

“Every year we get a little bit more demand, people know we have it here, so we get a little bit more customers coming by to get them. We sell them because it’s a religious tradition that everybody does, since we are a Hispanic bakery,” she said.

The first week of January is intense for Almazán and his crew. But the hard work doesn’t bother him.

 A man in a white apron holds a metal scoop over a scale as he measures ingredients.
Natalie Van Hoozer
KUNR Public Radio
Baker-in-training Eulogio Martín measures ingredients in a scale at the Carnicería La Chiquita bakery on Jan 3, 2023 in Reno, Nev.

“I enjoy it because I like pressure. That's when you know you’ve got to get going,” he said.

For many Mexican families, Día de los Reyes is often a bigger celebration than Christmas, he said.

“Typically, Día de los Reyes, Jan. 6, kids wait for their presents,” he said.

Almazán and his family look forward to celebrating with a rosca and seeing who gets the baby Jesus.

“We try to keep it up, we cut the roscas with my family. For Feb. 2, we just go to a restaurant, and whoever got it is the one that’s going to pay,” he said.

Natalie is a freelance journalist and translator based in Reno, Nevada, who reports in English and Spanish. She also works for the nonprofit SembraMedia, supporting independent, digital Spanish-language media in the United States.
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