Our most treasured family heirloom are our sweet family memories. The past is never dead, it is not even past. -William Faulkner
Keeping up the tradition in Puerto Rico! Día de Reyes!! I am so excited to share about this holiday tradition that is dear to my heart with all of you.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Santa does come on Christmas, and December 25th is a celebration, but tradition (dated back to the Evangelization of the New World) dictates that Three Kings Day is the big deal. This special holiday is celebrated in other Latin American countries as well as Spain but I will speak mostly from my experience in Puerto Rico.
The Three Kings or Three wise men of the Epiphany are the guys who followed the star to Bethlehem, to offer the baby Jesus presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh 12 days after he was born. So, unlike some cultures that have Santa bringing the presents on Christmas eve, Spanish cultures have Los Reyes Magos, who come to people’s homes on the night of January 5th (La Vípera de Reyes or the Eve of Three Kings Day) to bring them presents.
After New Year’s celebrations, our girls learned that they had to write their letters to the kings (Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar). We decorate shoeboxes that they will use to put the grass in. January 5th is the very special night Vispera de Reyes!! (Eve of the Epiphany Day) the children rip grass from parks and yards to deposit in their boxes to leave for the camels to eat while the Kings bring a gift for them. For us celebrating on the mainland where winter has hidden the grass, we’ve got to get creative and so we find leaves, sticks, and straw from anywhere we could find it. It becomes an expedition in itself.
In Puerto Rico, the children fill their shoeboxes with the grass found and leave it along with a bowl of water for the camels to eat and drink. Some children (like mine) get creative and generous and leave out snacks and water for the Three Kings too. These are gestures of gratitude for the gifts they are about to receive.
In other Latin American countries like Venezuela, children place their shoes next to their beds where they will find their gifts the next morning. In some areas in Mexico is tradition to gather and eat a “Rosca de Reyes”. Rosca” means wreath and “Reyes” means kings. In the states, something similar is eaten during Mardi Gras known as Kings Cake. This oval-shaped cake symbolizes a crown and it is baked with a small doll inside, which represents baby Jesus. The doll figure symbolizes the hiding of the infant Jesus from King Herod’s troops according to the bible story.
This Christian celebration allows for the teaching of the Nativity of Jesus. It creates the opportunity to discuss the topics of gratefulness and the beginnings of Christianity.
The next morning, on January 6th, the shoeboxes are empty and instead, there are gifts in and around the boxes. There are family gatherings with lots of traditional foods (that’s a post for another time). I am excited every year to watch our girls learn and appreciate the culture and traditions I grew up with!
Whichever positive traditions you and your family have, nourish, embrace them and create memories around them. It is one of the greatest legacies since it provides a sense of belonging. Those quality moments spent together nurture your family connections.
From our home to yours, Feliz dia de Reyes!!!