The Puerto Rican Timeless Tradition of Three Kings Day
Christmas is not over until a visit from the Magi.
It is the night before the Three Kings arrive. You can feel the excitement and magic of the holiday in the air. The cool, tropical evening breeze rushes in, and the children across the Island prepare to welcome the Wise Men into their homes.
Each January 5th, the kids join their parents to cut fresh grass and set it in a shoebox under their beds, under the Christmas tree (just like the cookies for Santa Claus), or in a place that is not easy to miss. They hurry into bed as soon as the night falls, and the whimsical anticipation for the arrival of the Magi at dawn sets in.
It is not specified when, but legend has it Los Tres Reyes (the three kings) arrive in their camels sometime after the children fall asleep. And much like the red-suited, white-bearded northern counterpart does a few weeks earlier, they leave presents for the well-behaved kids. But, being a tropical paradise with no camels on-site in Puerto Rico, the Magi travel in horses. As the wise men leave the presents by the shoebox, the humble carriage snacks on the grass the children kindly laid out for them before magically moving on to the next house. As soon as the rooster sings in the early morning, families across Puerto Rico wake to find presents for them. Just like in the Bible, the Magi's gifts come from a humble and kind heart – which is why in most cases, they're not even wrapped and are just piled up next to the shoeboxes. They open these presents surrounded by family members, and a traditional Three Kings Day celebration begins.
This longstanding tradition, also known as Epiphany, is celebrated worldwide. In Puerto Rico, it has a cultural significance that transcends its religious roots. Three Kings Day is considered one of the main celebrations during the holiday season, and a visit to Puerto Rico around the holiday season will show you precisely why!
Join the celebration!
Whether you are on the Island or at home, you can recreate the Three Kings Day traditions with your loved ones. Just place the grass-filled box on Three Kings Day Eve and open presents on the morning of January 6th. And, like most Puerto Rican traditions, the celebration is not complete without a big family gathering full of music and lively conversation. Of course, you can't leave out the signature coquito, pitorro, and a festive menu that includes holiday favorites like pernil, arroz con gandules, tembleque, and arroz con dulce. If you're on the Island, plan to enjoy one of the many special events taking place across different municipalities.
Although the biblical stories specify these Magi arrive from the Orient following a star, the Magi in Puerto Rico helm from the south of the Island, specifically from the town of Juana Díaz. Every January 6th, the municipality hosts the longest-standing and most visited Three Kings Day festival on the Island, celebrated for over 130 years.
There, you'll find local artisans, food stalls, and lively music. However, the festival's main attraction is the arrival of the Magi of Juana Díaz riding horseback and leading a parade through the town. They hand out presents and candy to all the children at the festival and become part of a huge "block party." If you're arriving after this day, you can still visit the Museo de los Tres Santos Reyes, a place dedicated exclusively to the history of these figures.
The holiday season is not over after Three Kings Day! January 7th marks the beginning of Las Octavitas, and leads up to Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, which starts a new cycle of festivals throughout the year.
Los Reyes are important figures in Puerto Rican art during the Holiday season and year-round. Local artisans carve tallados out of wood, make ceramic representations, and are often used as figures on paintings and mosaics. Fondly enough, the Puerto Rican Magi are often depicted riding horses instead of camels. They're also the subject of some local holiday songs, one of them even stating that children on the Island don't have enough time to play with the presents the Magi bring them before school starts back in January.