Did you know that the 12 days of Christmas don’t actually begin until Christmas day?
According to Christian tradition, the first day of Christmas is the day Jesus was born, and the twelfth day falls on January 6 — the day the three kings famously arrived in Bethlehem to deliver their gifts to baby Jesus.
Depending on the culture, this day may be called the Feast of Epiphany, The Twelfth Night, or Three Kings Day. In Puerto Rico, where I’m from, we refer to it as Dia de Los Reyes Magos.
If you love Christmas as much as our family does, celebrating Three Kings Day is a great way to extend the holiday magic for 12 more days!
Puerto Rican Traditions
You could almost say that Three Kings Day is just as big of a deal as Christmas in Puerto Rico — if not more so. Preparations for the festivities begin just after Christmas day, and the days leading up to January 6 are filled with lively celebrations and gatherings.
In the evenings leading up to Three Kings Day, friends and families gather in parrandas to sing and play traditional Puerto Rican music around the neighborhood, stopping at neighboring homes to celebrate, enjoy food and snacks, and sip coquito (a coconut-based holiday drink made with rum) before moving on to the next house and doing it all over again. Parrandas are the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling — a fun street party where anyone can join in on the fun.
As tradition goes, on the eve of Three Kings Day, children leave a shoebox filled with straw, hay, or fresh-cut grass for the Magi’s camels (or horses), placing the box either under the bed or somewhere where it can’t be missed, like under the Christmas tree. Small gifts like candy may also be left out for the Three Kings.
In return, the kids wake up in the morning to find they’ve received small gifts or candy if they’ve been good and charcoal or dirt if they’ve been naughty. The rest of the day is filled with parades, festivals, and celebrations. Families gather to feast on traditional holiday dishes such as arroz con gandules, pernil, pasteles, and tembleque.
The most famous celebration happens in the municipality of Juana Diaz, where the Magi arrive on horseback and lead a parade through town while handing out candy and gifts to children. This festival has been taking place for more than 130 years. There’s even a museum dedicated exclusively to the history of the Three Kings called the Museo de los Tres Santos Reyes.
The Three Kings also serve as inspiration for many Puerto Rican artists who paint, sculpt, or carve beautiful figures representing this important holiday.
Ways to Celebrate with Your Kids
If you’re planning to celebrate Three Kings Day this year, you won’t want to put your tree away just yet! It’s said to be bad luck if you put it away before the Three Kings have had the chance to visit your home.
Here are five ways to get your kids involved in this year’s Three Kings celebrations.
- Write a letter to the Three Kings. Just like kids write letters to Santa, they can also write them to the Three Kings listing their top wishes. Plus, it’s an excellent opportunity to sharpen their writing skills.
- Watch the Three Wise Men movie. Add this short 27-minute movie to your rotation of holiday favorites. This animated film tells the story of the Three Kings in a fun and kid-friendly way.
- Read books about the Three Kings. Gather in your cozy holiday PJs, grab your favorite blanket and some hot cocoa, and learn about the Three Kings by reading books about them out loud as a family.
- Make homemade star decorations. The Three Kings story reveals they followed the Star of Bethlehem to find their way to Jesus. With just some simple supplies like string, paper, and markers, you can encourage the kids to design their very own stars to hang in the window, so the Three Kings can find their way to your home.
- Leave out a shoebox with grass under the bed or tree. Prepare your very own offering for the Three Kings and their camels (or horses) by picking some grass from your yard and placing it in a shoebox under the kid’s beds or under the tree. We like to leave ours under the tree!
A Treat for the Parents
Want to taste a traditional Puerto Rican drink? Try making some coquito at home! It’s like egg nog, but better! While there are variations of this recipe, this is one of the more traditional ones. Some people prefer to add or reduce the amount of rum, for instance. Try it for yourself and make it your own. And if you’d like to get the kids involved, they can decorate or paint glass bottles and you can gift homemade bottles of coquito to family and friends.
1 can of condensed milk
1 can of evaporated milk
1 can of cream of coconut (preferably Coco Lopez)
½ cup of white rum (or spiced rum)
½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Blend all the ingredients together until everything is mixed well, pour into a glass bottle, and then refrigerate. Serve cold.
Happy Three Kings Day! Feliz Dia de Los Reyes Magos!