The feast of the Epiphany, which the Catholic Church in the U.S. celebrates today, celebrates the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah, when the Magi followed a star that led them to the child and offered gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. Two other aspects of this manifestation are the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan (which this year will be celebrated tomorrow, although interestingly, the same Gospel was read yesterday) and the miracle at the wedding in Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine and his disciples began to believe in him.
I was discussing this with a friend, who is a relatively recent convert to Catholicism, and she mentioned the Rosca de Reyes, which pinged a memory way in the back of my mind, from my years studying Spanish. It is a sweet bread decorated with candied fruits to symbolize the crowns of the three Kings (as the Magi are sometimes called), with traditional figurines placed inside the bread, sometimes just of the baby Jesus, sometimes with Joseph and Mary, hiding from Herod's attempts to kill the newborn king of the Jews and fleeing to Egypt. Whoever traditionally found the child Jesus in his piece of bread has to make a party for the celebration of El Dia de Candelaria on February 2, Candlemas Day or the Feast of the Presentation.
When I came home, I found a giant Rosca de Reyes on the kitchen counter, a delightful surprise from my friend. Since I am alone tonight, I shall cut myself a piece, and save the rest for friends and family who stop by in the next few days. She suggested that it was enough for a soccer team, so when my daughter Mary comes by on Tuesday, I will send the rest home with her, since her four oldest all play soccer and her husband coaches at least some of them. I think they will take care of whatever is left!
But it was a nice ending to a day that included lunch with some new friends, a charming newly married couple. He is of Jamaican descent, and his wife is from Senegal. We had lunch at a restaurant that served shawarma among other Middle Eastern dishes, and our conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics. It is clear that we are all life-long learners, and their welcoming smiles and the hugs we exchanged as we said goodbye warmed the rest of the day, and made me grateful to be alive.
The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple also honors Our Lady of Candelaria, and includes the blessing of candles. The fact that the Rosca de Reyes is tied to that by the finding of the figurine of the baby Jesus is more than a quaint tradition, but can help believers remember that God can turn the darkness and bitterness symbolized by the Holy Family's escape by night on the long journey to Egypt, into sweetness and light.