Growing up as the child of two Puerto Rican parents who moved the States when I was a child, we never really did the “Santa Claus” thing. Christmas was about nochebuena (literally, the good night): it meant gathering together as a family, having tons of traditional Puerto Rican food and drink, and spending time with your loved ones. It also meant going caroling, Puerto-Rican style, in a parranda and going door-to-door having a traveling party (asalto!) from location to location. But there was no Santa. Just Jesús and pasteles and pernil, trullas, and if you were feeling frisky some coquito.
Instead, what we learned to celebrate was the coming of the Three Kings (Los Tres Reyes Magos) who traveled from the far east to visit a baby Jesus and give him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These kings, following a star, likely didn’t make it to Jesus on the actual night of his birth, so we traditionally celebrate the event on January 6th, the Twelfth (last) Day of Christmas. The story goes that just as the Three Kings brought the gifts to baby Jesus, they bring gifts to the little boys and girls who believe in them.
On the night of the 5th, tradition holds that children would put a shoeboxes under their bed full of grass or hay. What was this for? Why, the camels that the kings rode in on, of course. It’s kind of like how children leave milk and cookies for Santa. The next morning the children awake to find a missing shoebox and instead receive gifts given to them from the Magi. A post-Christmas miracle!
I think about those times and traditions that I held when I was younger and recall them so very fondly. There is something so beautiful how we could turn something so seemingly mundane into something with real value. In retrospect, the celebrations were less about the gifts or the food or even that coquito, but instead it was about togetherness and giving each other our gifts of time and presence. Sure, the gifts were nice and they had their own value as well, but the value that we gave them was always more important than the suggested retail price.
As we celebrate and remember the gift-giving journey of the Magi, let us also remember the many ways that we have been given gifts in our lives and how we assign value to them. Let us respond to those gifts by giving back to the communities that we live and worship in. Let us give back by remembering and giving gifts to those who may feel like they have little or no value. We may not be as wealthy as kings or as generous and jolly as Santa, but we can all make a difference in our own way.
Please join us at Church of the Village as we celebrate Three Kings Day in worship this coming Sunday, January 5th at 10:30 am. Our celebration will feature special music from Orgullo Taino Bomba y Plena and all are welcome to join after the service for a special Three King’s Potluck.