ARLINGTON, Texas — January 6th is one of the busiest days of the new year for many North Texas bakeries. That's when thousands rush to get a rosca de reyes, also known as King Cakes, to celebrate Three Kings Day.
The feast day, also called Epiphany, is celebrated 12 days after Christmas Day and recalls the Biblical story of when the three wise men arrived to bring gifts and pay tribute to the infant Jesus. It also marks the official end to the Christmas season.
The oval shape of the cake, not to be confused with those typically associated with Mardi Gras, symbolizes a crown. Tradition calls for a small plastic infant figure to be placed inside the rosca de reyes to represent baby Jesus, hidden from King Herod's troops.
Whoever ends up with the baby Jesus figurine in their slice of cake, in many cases, is obligated to make food for the others. Usually, tamales.
Bakery employees start early preparing thousands of roscas de reyes, so that customers like Maria Guerreo can purchase them.
Guerreo spent January 6th searching for one, but hadn't found one yet.
"I just started looking for one," she told WFAA. "I am going to go to another bakery, I guess."
Marquez Bakery is owned and operated by Sally Venegas. She and her staff scaled back baking roscas de reyes this year, out of concern the pandemic would limit the traditional celebration. Still, Venegas said they received several last-minute online orders. They also decided to bake several extra for walk-in customers. Every one of the 200 they baked, sold.
Though roscas de reyes are traditionally Latin tradition, Venegas said over the years, King Cake celebrations have become more common among all people.
"Here in the past five years or so, we have seen a lot of different cultures come in looking for them," Venegas explained.
Venegas said her bakery has been able to stay open during the pandemic so she has been cognizant of making sure they are producing products that are likely to be purchased by their regular customer base.
Although roscas de reyes are a big seller this time of year, Venegas also specializes in fresh tortillas, which she's been able to sell to local Walmart stores. She said it's helped her bakery stay open during the pandemic so that she can carry on the tradition of Three Kings Day.
That's because baking and eating roscas de reyes are so much more than a business move for Venegas. She learned how to make the cakes from her mother and has since passed the tradition onto her teenage children. Venegas even gets her sister and her family involved in the celebration.
When it's time to eat the roscas de reyes the tradition takes on an even more personal meaning.
"It's considered good luck if you get the piece with the plastic figurine (of baby Jesus)," Venegas explained.
The person who ends up with the figurine in their slice of rosca de reyes in many cases is obligated to prepare food for the participants the following month as part of their ongoing celebration.