As a Puerto Rican child, I had the good fortune to get gifts both on Christmas Day and on the Three Kings Day, January, 6th. Early in the evening on January 5th, my brother and I cut grass clippings from the backyard and placed them in two shoe boxes in front of our bed to feed the Three Kings’ camels.
The next day, the grass was gone and in its stead were beautifully wrapped gifts brought to us by the wise men. Variations of this ritual are observed in Spanish and Latin American communities throughout the world. For us, the holiday season lasts longer than the twelve days of Christmas of the popular carol.
El Día de Reyes, also known as Epiphany, marks the adoration of Jesus by the Three Kings – Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar - and their journey from the East following the star of Bethlehem. The wise men gifted gold, myrrh and frankincense to the new born child in recognition of this manifestation of God in human form.
In the mountains of Puerto Rico, family and friends gather on the 5th to sing to the Three Kings. Delicious asopao de pollo (soupy rice with chicken) and fried plantains are served as part of the festivity that lasts into the early morning. On January 6th, a parade headed by Los Tres Reyes culminates in a public fiesta in Old San Juan.
It saddens me that so many in the United States rush to discard their Christmas trees and put away the decorations by the end of the year so that by January 2nd, the country is back into the frenzy of work and busyness that rule the rest of the year. I’m not advocating for two more weeks of Christmas advertising and canned carols piped throughout the stores. And I do not wish my Jewish, Buddhists, and friends of other or no faiths to feel encroached upon by one more Christian holiday.
My wish, born in the naiveté of a child’s belief that the camels really ate the grass we set out on Three Kings Eve, is that we extend for a few more weeks the message of faith, love and hope of this holiday to guide us into the New Year.