Some people show up for cocktail hour with a bottle of wine. Others like to show off their cultural sensitivity, and if cocktails are announced on Three Kings Day somewhere in Mexico, these people might show up with a giant honking ring cake from Costco. A Kirkland brand Rosca De Reyes, that is, topped with colorful, jellied fruit. The one with a tiny plastic toy, representing baby Jesus, somewhere inside.
I got excited when I learned that the trinket conveys responsibility on whoever find him in their slice. They must return Feb. 2, Día de la Candelaria, and have a dinner party for the same guests. We sadly return home to wintry Connecticut this week, but if I found Jesus in my piece of ring cake, I’d be legally and culturally required to return to Mérida in the middle of winter! My overseers at work couldn’t possibly object, and I’m sure my co-workers would gladly cover for me once again if it meant honoring tradition.
So after some wine and cheese, out came the giant rosca.
And my fork hit something hard: the type of choking hazard that would result in a law suit in the U.S. Out came a flat, white plastic piece that in artistic interpretation was not so much Bethlehem and a little more South Park-ish. I got the baby Jesus! It was a pretty miserable representation of something so holy, but I didn’t care. The rosca demands it: I’m coming back in three weeks! It’s a sign from God, perhaps even a direct order from above, that I should just stay in Mérida!
But I should have looked closer. It wasn’t long before someone else found a plastic Tiddlywinks piece as well. No fair! Costco stacked the deck so everyone would feel special. Then another ghostly plastic figure emerged. We started to line them up, side by side. Then we looked closer. These weren’t Jesus. They seemed to resemble larger, roundish men, holding something in their hands, a small gift perhaps. Thinking back to Sunday School class, we realized that we had forked the wise men, or the Three Kings.
We went to the kitchen to attack the rest of this massively large oval cake, the leftovers of which would have been good to make a bread pudding or trifle. Our forensic investigation began.
Out came another figure of a grown-up man. Our white plastic nativity scene was forming. But he wasn’t holding a gift. This was Joseph, or maybe a shepherd. Mary had to be in there somewhere, and finally, someone found her. Baby Jesus was the last to be recovered from the cake. We recognized the Christ child only by process of elimination. Out of context, I’m not sure you’d know who this little abstract bump on a rectangular flat surface was supposed to be. I even wondered if Costco was being perfectly respectful in rendering these sacred figures in such a flat, cartoony way. Do a Google image search for “roscas de reyes Jesus” and you’ll find more charming, lifelike and reverential trinkets.
But we’re just guests in this country, and we’re not even members of Costco, so we reserve judgment. The cake was a nice conversation piece for six non-Mexican expats in Mérida, taking a literal stab at tradition.