Three Kings Day (or “El Día de los Reyes Magos”) is celebrated on January 6, or the Epiphany, which marks the day when Catholics believe The Three Wise Men delivered gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to the baby Jesus.
In Latino immigrant neighborhoods, some Christmas trees are still up, waiting for this last marker of the holiday season. On La Víspera de Reyes (the Eve of Three Kings Day) children cut grass to put in a shoe box, adorned it with flowers and place it by their bed for the camels to eat. Their "wish list" is placed on top of the grass.
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 the sound 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.
In the morning the boxes left by their beds are now empty of grass but filled with gifts. It is a joyful day of celebration. Later in the day a holiday dinner is prepared and friends and relatives join in the festivities.
That is the way that it happened throughout my childhood. When I left Puerto Rico and had my own family it was extremely important for me to keep this tradition alive for my children. The madness of the holiday rush and the continuing force of assimilation did not made it easy.
According to custom, our Christmas tree went up just before Christmas and remained in place until the Solemnity of Epiphany. Throughout my children elementary school years I kept them out of school on “El Dia de los Reyes”. In the morning we went to mass, during the day we played traditional tunes and read the story of epiphany and that night we prepared a traditional Puerto Rican dinner and invited our friends. This provided us an opportunity to share our culture and faith with others.
When my son was about 7 years old he shared this tradition with our next door neighbor. He promptly asked his mom for permission to go with us to prepare a box for the Los Reyes. She played along and he became as he said “Puerto Rican for a day”.
As parents and guardians of our culture, one of the responsibilities we have is to educate ourselves, our children and our communities about our culture. They need to know about Three Kings Day because it is such a big part of our culture and faith.