Celebrating Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings’ Day): Our Traditions

by Melanie Edwards on January 4, 2013 · 13 comments

in Latino Culture, Puerto Rico

Dia de Reyes en Cabo Rojo

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on January 6, 2010. Slight edits have been made.

Happy Three Kings’ Day! Feliz Dí­a de los Tres Reyes Magos!

We did it. Last year, after not celebrating, I resolved to celebrate Three Kings’ Day this year. And, though it’s a normal work day and baby girl is at preschool today, she did get her gift this morning and participated in the traditional Three Kings’ Day celebration.

It’s nice for me to share this tradition with her and remember my own childhood memories of celebrating El Día de Los Reyes. I remember making my basket with my family, filling it with grass on La Víspera de Reyes (the Eve of Three Kings’ Day), and being excited the next morning when I found the grass had been replaced with candy and the kings had also left me a gift.

There was one particular year that I remember vividly because I did something that I regret to this day. I can remember that I wanted one of those Barbie motorcycles; I think they were a hot item back then. When I opened my gift, it was a Barbie scooter instead, or maybe it was a moped. What I know is that it wasn’t the motorcycle I wanted. And I said, in my little whiny voice too, “Esto no es lo que yo queria!” (This isn’t what I wanted!) I was of course quickly reprimanded and told to appreciate what the kings had brought me because other kids may not have gotten anything. But, I can still remember my mami‘s face right before she scolded me. When I was old enough and learned that my parents were the ones that actually provided the gifts and that it wasn’t actually Los Reyes, I felt horrible. I know that I apologized to my mom at one point or another, maybe even multiple times. I will probably apologize again today and we’ll laugh it off.

So, how do we celebrate Three Kings’ Day? I believe that each Latino culture has their own special way of celebrating Three Kings’ Day. I can only tell you how we personally celebrated Los Tres Reyes in Puerto Rico and what I am passing down to my children so they can learn about the tradition.

Traditions for Celebrating Three Kings’ Day (El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos)

  1. First, you will need either a plain shoebox or a basket made from a shoebox. Here are the baskets my kids will be using this weekend, made by their abuela:
    Ready to Celebrate Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings' Day)
    The basket is normally decorated with bows made out of wax paper, but we’ve had trouble finding such paper. So, in the past, we’ve also used regular wrapping paper.
  2. Then, the night before Three Kings’ Day, on La Vispera de Reyes – have your child collect some grass from your yard and put it in the basket. The grass is for the kings’ camels. This is analogous to setting out milk & cookies for Santa or carrots for his reindeer.
  3. The basket then goes under the bed (or next to it if it doesn’t fit).
  4. In the middle of the night, after your child is sleeping, throw out the grass and replace it with candy. Place a gift next to the basket.
  5. The next morning, your child will be delighted to find the gift and candy that the Three Kings left behind!
  6. Don’t forget to explain that Los Tres Reyes left a gift for him/her the same way they brought gifts for baby Jesus when he was born. That is the meaning behind all this and why we celebrate the holiday.

Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) is a fun holiday and one I plan to continue celebrating each year so my kids can create their own memories and embrace this Latino tradition.

Have you ever celebrated El Día de Los Tres Reyes? Do you think you might next year?

Top photo: Cryo Mariena/Flickr

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1 Eliana Tardio January 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm

aww that’s a beautiful story. I think I’ll take the kids to the library, read some Reyes Magos books and then do a special picnik to share their presents. I didn´t know about the baskets. I’ll try it next time 🙂

2 modernmami January 4, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Thanks Eliana! I need to get some Reyes books myself to read with them – thanks for the reminder! A picnic! What a fun addition to the holiday! 🙂 Felicidades!

3 Laura Tellado January 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I always used to celebrate! I think I’ll post about it, too. Funny, I never heard of decorating baskets to use for the grass. I always used the plain shoebox. I LOVED going out to the yard to collect grass! I have one particular photo of me where I’m about two years old, with a blissful smile on my face, just GOING TO TOWN with the grass!! 🙂

Feliz Día, Melanie. 🙂

4 modernmami January 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

Felicidades Laura! We always decorated them, even when we lived in PR!

5 Monica Olivera January 4, 2013 at 11:03 pm

We never celebrated this when I was growing up – but I do now with my kids! Love your boxes!!

6 modernmami January 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

Thanks! My mom actually made them – I can’t take the credit! 😉

7 julie diaz-asper January 8, 2013 at 10:48 pm

I never celebrated 3 kings as a kid but I love celebrating. It’s a great way to extend the holiday season. I love your basket tradition!

8 Melanie Edwards January 9, 2013 at 12:49 pm

It is a great way to keep the holidays going! My kids love the baskets too!

9 Jose Garcia December 11, 2014 at 1:23 am

Nice story! Thanks for sharing. As a young boy being raised by foster parents in the outskirts of Arecibo, PR, I remember going to El Pueblo (the town) during Las Navidades, to shop for presents for family and friends. Never did I suspect that my parents were also paying attention to my reactions to the different toys and what not, that my eyes were fixed on. So, came Three Kings Day, having placed my box with grass clippings under my bed the night before, I would, “find that special toy” that I was interest on, under my bed!!!!! My folks were very humble and even with what little they had in their spending budget, always was streached enough to get me “something, in the name of the Three Kings”!!
When my, now grown daughters were in their pre teen years, I also found the time to pass along the tradition of the Three Wise Men and I buy them “something”.

10 Melanie Edwards December 11, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Thanks Jose for sharing your own story! Los 3 Reyes really are something special in our culture and is uniquely celebrated. Kudos for sharing the tradition with your daughters!

11 Marlene Torres Santiago January 1, 2016 at 9:08 pm

I was lucky to be born in Puerto Rico & live there until I was 8yrs old. We used to live en El Mirador in San Juan & it was a bad place back then, shots fired 24/7 & dead bodies appeared almost every day & it was a drug point. But the best thing I remember is that behind our building they had a nice spot where grass would grow real tall & my dad would take me there behind our building so we can cut the grass. I remember the MESS the camels would make while eating the grass. I even remember there was a time where they even left a trail of grass leading to our front door & it ended there!!! It was something I would always look forward to. Then when I was like 9yrs old & we lived in Jersey we couldn’t do the whole grass in the box because there wasn’t any grass to cut behind our building but that’s around the age I found out the “true Magic”. I’m a VERY curious person & I remember seeing these boxes on the top of my tiny closet way up high & it bothered me for days. I was known for climbing on everything & my mom caught me trying to climb up to see in the boxes & she said “si vez lo que esta ahi adentro se acaba la Magia” (If you see what’s in there the Magic will end)…I wasn’t a stupid child so I knew what she meant. A few days after Reyes I was able to get to the box & it was empty, so I knew what it meant. We were never really able to do the whole box thing again BUT for the first time I will improvise this year. I have an almost 4yr old & an almost 2yr old & this year I will cut up or tear up green paper & put it in a box next to their beds. It’s the first time I will do it & since in Virginia where I live there’s no GOOD grass to use, I will improvise but explain that it’s supposed to be real grass but that the kings will make it into real grass. I will also do the same thing at my new job, in a daycare, & my bosses have given me permission to introduce to the 3 & 4yr olds I will be teaching about our culture with Reyes. But instead of toys for those kids I will bring candy the 5th without them knowing hahaha But I will teach my sons about their roots & our cultures & maybe when I can I will be able to bring them to La Isla to my family so they can see how beautiful our Isla is. My 3yr old already knows what Puerto Rico is & that we are from there & he recognizes the flag & the Coqui & their beautiful Coqui song (I have it saved on my phone in a recording I did years ago thru the phone)….so it’s a step forward! I can’t wait until the 6th! Feliz Dia De Reyes!!!

12 Melanie Edwards January 15, 2016 at 11:07 am

Thanks for sharing – felicidades!

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