Everything the average person does, Latinos and Hispanics do better. When we celebrate, we do it with gusto and glee. Celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah with loved ones during the holiday break hasn’t reached full circle until the day we know to be Three Kings Day arrives. The blessed day translates into Spanish as Dia De Los Reyes, or most commonly known as, the Epiphany.
How can a day eclipsed by big-time holidays be treated with such enthusiasm and reverence, especially by Puerto Ricans? Dia De Los Reyes is a time centered on family, faith, food and above all, pride in where we come from.
The next door neighbors are packing up their Christmas tree, striping down the decorations and switching off the lights until Christmas comes back to town. In my house, the tree remains standing tall and proud with the angel ornament on top crowning it.
Here I am, a college student, and Three Kings Day still brings out the child in me when I eagerly grab that old, nasty foot smelling shoebox from my closet. As I stuff it with hay or grass for a chance of a small gift from under the tree by the Kings, the feeling of being a kid overfills me. It’s a second Christmas for me.
Why is this so important for us? While my mother and father were born and raised on the tiny island of Puerto Rico, they have since left the small piece of floating sand for the more stable and sub-tropical acres of the Sunshine State. Yet, Florida is not the Island of Paradise. Florida does not have singing frogs, tropical jungles, endless labyrinths of green mountains and horses cantering alongside busted up and used cars. My parents were surrounded by their heritage and culture. We might not always be able to be in Puerto Rico, but we have each other. Three Kings Day is a time of our family coming together and growing closer with each other in the spirit of this holiday.
Celebrating Three Kings Day has been an integral part of Puerto Rican culture for years, imbedded in our bones and dancing in our marrow. For some Puerto Ricans, it may be a holiday that is on the same jolly level as Christmas. When Epiphany arrives, one can find multiple works of art depicting the three men who came to visit Jesus and the Holy Family with gifts of glittering gold, flattering frankincense and mysterious myrrh. They are usually riding horses in the art – ‘cause, you know, camels don’t necessarily live on the island and people didn’t know what they looked like for a while. There is even a live reenactment of the Three Kings strolling into Old San Juan for everyone to see. They stroll down the streets with their exquisite garbs and are larger than life as little boys and girls watch and cheer them on. It is as if the kings were breathed back to life by a higher power and have graced us with their presence while inviting us on their journey to find the Christ Child still swaddled in their mother’s arms.
Finally, Three Kings Day is an expression of faith. For a number of individuals, celebrating this special holiday with either the entire island or your family is a unique way to express one’s beliefs in a physical and interactive way, as if we are embracing the Divine with our own human hands. It’s a fun way to teach children their faith by encouraging them to offer gifts of hay or grass to the animals the Kings ride before they make the final pit stop in offering gifts to the child Jesus in the manger. Three Kings Day combines family, culture and faith together, encompassing the foundational factors commonly found within Hispanic/Latin culture.
So how sad is it that a holiday like Three Kings Day is not celebrated on my campus? There are no images of the Kings beatifying the streets or walls of my college. I don’t walk in lively step with the tune of Feliz Navidad while heading to my classes. There will be no presents in my shoebox this upcoming month. Of course, my college is secular and thus cannot choose any favorites, which I understand. Still, it saddens me to see that even if my campus favored one or more holidays, Three Kings Day would most likely be pushed into a corner. I wish everyone, Hispanic and otherwise, had the chance to celebrate this special holiday like my family and I do. The best things in life are meant to be shared, not hoarded away and kept secret, and I know that this holiday near and dear to my heart is no exception.
We take pride in who we are: we cherish family, celebrate culture and nurture faith in many ways, and Three Kings Day is one of the many ways we combine all of them together. Everyone, regardless of who they are or where they may be in life, can enjoy what many consider to be one of the best celebrations both on the island and in Latin culture. Maybe in my college campus, instead of the Three Kings visiting the students, I can go in their place and offer gifts of love, support and laughter to my classmates this upcoming semester. Hey, nobody can celebrate the holidays like a boricua!