I don’t often reminisce about my childhood in this space or anywhere else. As I said in my last post about meeting Buzz Aldrin much of my childhood is a murky place and there are few things I remember with anything like clarity.
One thing I do remember though, is celebrating the Dia de los Reyes. In my house, it was an even bigger deal than Christmas.
I hate to tell you that you’ve been celebrating the birth of Christ wrong all these years, but you really have. The tradition of giving gifts started with the three kings who didn’t arrive until twelve days after his birth on January 6th. From puertorico.com:
Three Kings Day, also known as El Dia de los Reyes in Spanish and Epiphany in other countries, is a long held Latin American tradition. It celebrates the gospel account relating to the visit of the three magi – or in this case kings – to the baby Jesus. According to Latin culture, January 6th saw three different men visiting Jesus – Melchor (representing Europe), Gaspar (representing Arabia) and Balthazar (representing Africa). The first is believed to have arrived by horse, the second by camel, and the third by elephant and they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh respectively.
How should you celebrate? Why, exchanging goods for services, of course! Kids put out hay or grass for the wise men’s mounts in shoe boxes (some families use old shoes) and in the morning they find gifts. We always did the exchange in the living room near the Christmas tree, but I read in a few places that some families do theirs under the kids’ beds (obviously those kids kept a cleaner room than I did.) Like Christmas there’s a big family meal because we haven’t had enough of those yet during the holiday season. I think we usually had pasteles which are kind of like tamales but wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husk.
For those of you playing along at home, this is also where the Twelve Days of Christmas comes in. While Advent starts on the first day of December, the Twelve Days don’t start counting until Christmas proper and end on the day the wise men arrive and offer their gifts to the baby Jesus.
Why am I telling you all of this? I’m not sure. I suppose because being raised an Old World Catholic left a mark on me that can never be erased, no matter how far I drift away from my faith (and these days that’s very far indeed). There will always be a part of me that loves solemnity of midnight mass and the most devout of the hymns. While I no longer believe in the deification of Christ I will always believe in the message of Christ, that love and the spirit of giving are the most divine aspects of human nature and that we should celebrate them.
Wishing you peace and love on this three kings day,