The Kings, or Wise Men, certainly present a more spiritual and faithful representation of the birth of Christ than an once-obscure saint who came to be known as Santa Claus and who was squeezed into his signature red suit by the Coca-Cola Company. But why are they such an important part of Puerto Rican culture and customs? Here's a closer look.
1. Biblical Background
On the night Christ was born, the were drawn by a "mysterious light" which became a star that hung in the western sky. The followed this sign to Bethlehem, where they arrived (a little late) to honor Christ's birth. In fact, the "12 Days of Christmas," which is so often believed to end on December 25, actually begins on the 25th and runs through January 6, culminating with the Feast of Epiphany, or "The Adoration of the Magi."
2. The Puerto Rican Tradition
Good kids were rewarded with presents and candy, while bad kids ended up with charcoal or even dirt (which begs the question: How bad do you have to be to get dirt for Christmas?)
Today, children typically get their main presents on the 25th, but there's always a smaller, humbler, and perhaps even more rewarding gift reserved for Three Kings Day.
The Three Kings are also a mainstay of Puerto Rican arts and crafts. They are among the most popular subjects for the island's santos, or handmade figurines of saints and other religious persons, and practically every souvenir shop worth its salt will carry some homage to them.
3. What To Expect on January 6
These particular kings hail from Juana Díaz, a town in the south of the island that is the unofficial hometown of the Magi. A statue of the kings greets you when you enter the town, and also adorns the main plaza. From this base, the Three Kings travel around the island, but their stop in Old San Juan is the largest of the island's celebrations.