December 25? For some Puerto Ricans, that’s merely a prelude to what they feel is really the important day of the marathon Christmas Season inPuerto Rico. I should point out that the Three Kings, or Los Reyes Magos, are not only venerated in Puerto Rico but throughout the Latin World.
If you are Puerto Rican then you have to celebrate Los Reyes. After Christmas put a Reyes statue as a centerpiece on your dinning room table so the kids know – it’s no over yet “faltan los Reyes.”
Celebrate it Puerto Rican style, that is…. have the kids cut grass or greenery on January 5th and put it in a box under their bed. The Reyes only come if the child has been good all year and if the children are awake they bypass the house. On this night children sleep lightly listening for any strange noises, whispers, or maybe sounds of the camels’ hooves, or any tale-tale signs of the Kings’ arrival. Sometime during the night Los Reyes arrive and quietly leave their gifts for the children while their camels enjoy their snack.
Put a small gift from Los Reyes in the box once they fall asleep – and don’t forget to throw out the grass– a charming alternative to cookies and milk for Santa. (Traditionally, you’ll find carvings and artwork of the three kings on horses instead of camels; that’s because the country folk in years past didn’t know what a camel was.)
Good kids were rewarded with presents and candy, while bad kids ended up with charcoal or even dirt (which begs the question: How bad do you have to be to get dirt for Christmas?)
In the morning the island is filled with the joy and the laughter of happy children enjoying their new bikes, skates, dolls, and other toys. It is a joyful day full of celebration. Later in the day a holiday dinner is prepared and friends and relatives join in the festivities. Relatives bring the children the boxes left under their beds now empty of grass but filled with gifts. What fun!
Have a special and festive Día de Reyes meal that day. Take pictures of your children with their boxes. After dinner make it a tradition to sing a Reyes song.
Today, children typically get their main presents on the 25th, but there’s always a smaller, humbler, and perhaps even more rewarding gift reserved for Three Kings Day.
Los Reyes arrive before dawn on January 6th. For centuries Puerto Rican children have celebrated Los Reyes in the same manner as their grandparents did when they were children. January 6 is called Epiphany and is traditionally the day in which the Magi arrived bearing gifts for the Christ child. Even to this day in Hispanic countries throughout the world, January 6 is the day that children receive their Christmas gifts, in commemoration of the Magi’s visit.
The Kings, or Wise Men, certainly present a more spiritual and faithful representation of the birth of Christ than a once-obscure saint who came to be known as Santa Claus and who was squeezed into his signature red suit by the Coca-Cola Company. But why are they such an important part of Puerto Rican culture and customs? Here’s a closer look.
Regardless of faith, most Americans know the story, or at least, know of the story, of the Three Kings. We don’t know a whole lot about the Magi (which doesn’t mean magic-trick magicians but rather a general term for astrologers, seers, and fortunetellers). In their sole appearance in the Gospel of Matthew, they are never named, and hail from “the east.” (The names we have come to know them by — Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar — were handed to them much later on.) The most well-known thing about them, of course, is that they came bearing gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
On the night Christ was born, the were drawn by a “mysterious light” which became a star that hung in the western sky. The followed this sign to Bethlehem, where they arrived (a little late) to honor Christ’s birth. In fact, the “12 Days of Christmas,” which is so often believed to end on December 25, actually begins on the 25th and runs through January 6, culminating with the Feast of Epiphany, or “The Adoration of the Magi.”