The holidays always come with a bag of emotions. They bring joy to some, sorrow to others and anxiety to many.
When you live far from home, they can also feel a little lonely. This rings especially true for me because I come from the land that celebrates one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world. They start on Thanksgiving (or earlier if the spirit of the season overcomes you) until January 14. Our celebrations include family gatherings, parties, impromptu sing-alongs at dive bars on the side of the road, lots of great food, lively Christmas music, early morning church services and breakfasts leading up to the big day, and lots of parties.
If you’re looking for lively holidays, look no further than the island of Puerto Rico.
Part of the core of our tradition is the celebration of the Epiphany.
It commemorates the moment the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem to welcome Jesus as their king. Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar traditionally brought gold, incense, and myrrh as their gifts. It is celebrated in predominantly Christian countries, such as Spain and Italy, as well as those cultures colonized by them (mainly Latin American countries).
Each country has its different traditions, but all include the Wise Men leaving presents for the kids on January 6th, much like Santa does on December 25.
In Puerto Rico, the Epiphany is deeply tied to our culture and heritage. It’s a big deal.
Traditionally, on the night of January 5th, children leave a shoebox filled with grass at the foot of their bed. On the morning of the 6th, los Reyes Magos, riding horses instead of camels, leave toys and gifts.
We lived close enough to our grandparents’ house that we left a box in our designated spot each year. Waking up to presents at the foot of the bed is a feeling I’ll ever forget. The rest of the day is typically spent going from family gatherings to parties all day long.
Being away from home has always made the holiday a little lonely to celebrate. Now that I have kids, I want to make sure they get to enjoy the tradition. For the past three years, Olivia has gathered grass clippings (or Christmas tree needles if there is a snow cover) for her shoebox. The Three Wise Men have left her gifts in return. We eat a traditional Puerto Rican holiday dinner and blast some cheerful parranda music.
Once my kids get to school age, I still want to keep the Epiphany tradition alive even though it might be interrupted by school.
I hope to be able to celebrate and share my culture with them each year. Bring a little bit of the island to my home during the holiday season. Holidays are special because we get to partake in the same traditions with our family.
I might not be able to enjoy the warm holiday season and dance the night away to pleneros, but I can still share the gift of Los Reyes Magos with my family of four.
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