Feliz Día de los Tres Reyes Magos
Puerto Rico has an extra-long holiday season. It starts at Thanksgiving and runs until mid-January. With about 90% of the population being Christian, the Christmas season is a big deal here.
While you may think that Christmas is the big day, tradition dictates that it is the Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day or Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (which falls on January 6th each year) that is the biggest holiday in all the island.
What’s this Holiday All About?
The Three Kings of the Epiphany are the guys who followed the star to Bethlehem, to offer the baby Jesus presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh 12 days after he was born. So, unlike some cultures that have Santa bringing the presents on Christmas eve, Spanish cultures have Los Reyes Magos, who come to people’s homes on the night of January 5th (La Vípera de Reyes or the Eve of Three Kings Day) to bring them presents.
Here, in Puerto Rico, Santa does come on Christmas, and December 25th is a celebration, but tradition dictates that Three Kings Day is the big deal.
Kids write their wish lists to their favorite king (Melchor, Baltazar or Gaspar), and they leave out snacks for the Three Kings (and grass for their camels) before they go to bed. On January 6th, there are huge family gatherings with lots of traditional foods. It’s lots of fun to participate in these traditional celebrations.
One of the cool things about Puerto Rico is that they never loose the spirit of the Holidays. When you visit the island, you can see the Three Kings depicted everywhere, all year long. They are frequently painted, crafted, or carved from wood, and on display regardless of the season. A hand-crafted
Three Kings object d’art is a wonderful souvenir of your trip to Puerto Rico!
But I’m On Vacation — How Will This Affect Me?
Three Kings Day is a festive day. Most places are closed so that people can be home with their families. If you’re a tourist visiting the island, there will be some impact on your visit …
- Stores will close early on January 5th, and you should expect that everything will be closed on January 6th. Some large supermarkets and chain pharmacies may be open, especially in Isla Verde. Gas stations will be open (for the most part).
- Some restaurants may be open, but not many.
- The government also usually sets up a place for families to come to get presents for the kids. In 2012, the big giveaway was at the Luis Muñoz Rivera park at the north-eastern end of Puerta de Tierra. There will be music and fun, but expect lots of people and traffic in the area. For 2013, the main one was at the Garden in Caguas, both there were other events around the island. When it is closer to Jan. 6th, find out where the giveaways are and try to avoid the high traffic areas.
- Museums are closed.
- Most other tourist places — Camuy Caves, Arecibo Observatory, Balnearios (beaches) — will be closed.
- El Morro and San Cristobal Forts will be open. As will El Yunque National Forest.
- The restaurants in Guavate will be open, and they will have all the traditional holiday foods available for you to try.
My recommendation for something to do on January 6th would be something in a natural setting. One that doesn’t require someone to be there to open up for the day. Aim for a public beach or the rain forest.