During our combined military careers my husband and I have lived in multiple states, in Germany, Italy, Korea, Puerto Rico, and spent time in Haiti, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. We’ve traveled for pleasure to a number of other countries, and of course have a deep fondness for the Caribbean region. We’ve gained something from all of those cultures and it was in Puerto Rico that we learned about Three Kings Day, the day honoring Los Reyes Magos. This is a custom throughout Latin countries, but our specific experience was in Puerto Rico.
We grew up with the story of the Three Wise Men (also referred to as Kings or Magi) bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the Christ child and the song, “Twelve Days of Christmas”. The Wise Men/Kings/Magi followed the Bright Star that appeared over Bethlehem at the birth of the Christ child, but it took them some days to arrive. Since I have friends and acquaintances who are history buffs, I suppose that at some point I probably heard that the actual twelve days don’t precede Christmas, but instead begin on December 25th with the birth and runs through January 6th, when the Three Kings saw the Christ child. It is therefore January 6th that is the celebration of the Feast of Epiphany, also known as The Adoration of the Magi.
Puerto Rico celebrates Three Kings Day in a big way and no one would think of taking down decorations before then. There are almost as many parties as for Christmas and even though the main presents are now exchanged at Christmas, there are always one or two held back for January 6th. In a gesture similar to milk and cookies for Santa, children leave a small box of hay or straw for the Three Kings’ camels or horses depending on which version you prefer.
It was one of those customs that we enjoyed and when we moved to South Florida and someone made a comment about taking decorations down on New Year’s Day, we immediately said, “No, no, not until after Three Kings Day.” So Happy Three Kings Day for all who celebrate it.