You Say Santa, I Say Reyes

Twelve days after Santa arrives with presents, an unassuming threesome comes to offer their gifts to children, sparking a world of magic and imagination. This is the Reyes tradition we Latinos grew up with.

The Three Kings worship Baby JesusThe Three Kings worship Baby Jesus It's been said that the longest Christmas celebration in the world is Navidad in Puerto Rico. Maybe it's because we, Boricuas, mix the American custom of beginning right after Thanksgiving with the traditional Christmas calendar, and then we continue with Las octavitas all through January. The season finally comes to a close on February 2nd when we celebrate La Candelaria, and burn the Christmas tree in a big bonfire. It's a non-stopping fiesta of grand proportions!

But as far as Puerto Rican children are concerned, the season is really about those 12 days between December 25th and Día de Reyes on January 6th (the same days the famous carol sings about). There's nothing like the excitement of waiting for Santa Clós to bring those highly anticipated presents on Christmas morning! It was so hard to fall asleep imagining how the big, jolly fellow, along with his toys and reindeer, would turn into an hormiguita (a little ant), and crawl under the front door (there are no chimneys in the Caribbean). But Christmas doesn't end there.

See how Christmas is celebrated in Latin America

Los Reyes are coming!
While Santa's visit is a culmination of every Latino child's wish, the arrival of Los Reyes Magos is just as cherished. According to tradition, there were three Wise Men who followed a star that led them to Baby Jesus. Once they found him, they presented him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. From then on, the Reyes come down from heaven every January 5th to leave presents under the Christmas tree. But to get the presents, you have to prepare.

While Santa gets cookies and milk, the Reyes get quite a different welcoming. In preparation, children fill empty shoe boxes with grass from the backyard--food for the Wise Men's camels, of course! The grass is left, along with some water, for the Reyes after their long journey. While Santa is known for bringing the bikes and nice dolls, Los Reyes usually bring smaller toys and more practical gifts, like socks and pencils. There was an earthiness to the Wise Men's unassuming presents that we all seemed to like growing up, and for some reason we felt we could better relate to them. Perhaps it's because they had Spanish names that seemed natural to us (Gaspar, Melchor and Baltasar), or that they came from places with palm trees. But, I think the fact that they'd personally seen the same Baby Jesus that lay placidly in our Nativity scene filled us with great amazement. Plus, we loved the idea of those hungry camels!

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