On the night, of January 5, the figurines of the Three Wise Men are added to the nativity scene. Before going to bed the children place their old shoes under their bed or in the living room, where the Wise Men will leave them their presents. Some also place outside the house, some hay and a bucket with water for the animals, and even some cookies and milk for Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar.
You can feel the excitement building up! With twinkling eyes, the children eagerly, and constantly ask what time it is, wishing for time to fly so they could open their presents.
Reluctantly they go off to bed.
As soon as they wake up, which is earlier than any other day, they run to see the gifts that the Three Magi left for them. Happiness overflows every Mexican home.
The children spend the day playing and admiring each other’s presents, sharing them with friends, talking about how they were able to hear or see the Reyes Magos when they arrived at their home, how one of them heard the camel’s footsteps, how the other saw a shining crown in the dark night!
Meanwhile, adults prepare for the Merienda de Reyes, an early evening dinner that friends and families share to celebrate the Epiphany. Some families celebrate with a Rosca de Reyes, or wise men's cake.
People go to the markets and stores to get the needed ingredients to prepare the feast.
Many bakeries offer the Rosca de Reyes, an oval sweetbread, decorated with candied fruit. There are Roscas of all sizes, very small ones for two or three people and up to the ones that will delight more that twenty people.
The Merienda de Reyes is truly a multicultural event. The Spaniards brought the tradition of celebrating the Epiphany and sharing the Rosca to the New World. The Rosca is served along with Tamales, made of corn which was the pre-Hispanic food par excellance, and hot chocolate. Chocolate is also a gift from the native peoples of the New World.
Hidden inside this delicious Rosca, a plastic figurine of the Baby Jesus. The Baby is hidden in symbol of the need to find a secure place where Jesus could be born, a place where King Herod would not find Him.
Each person cuts a slice of the Rosca . The knife is supposed to symbolize the danger the Christ child was in. One by one the guests carefully inspect their slice, hopping they didn't get the figurine. Whoever gets the baby figurine shall be the host, and invite everyone present to a new celebration on February 2, Candelaria or Candle mass day, and he also shall get a new Ropón or dress for the Baby Jesus of the Nativity scene.
The Mexican Christmas season is extended up to February 2 , when the nativity scene is put away, and another family dinner of delicious tamales and hot chocolate is served.