Three Kings Festival in Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans are friendly, outgoing, and always looking for a reason to have fun. Visit Puerto Rico from Thanksgiving through mid-January and you’ll find the island in full party mode. Of course they enjoy Christmas and the New Year, but in Puerto Rico, the really big celebration is reserved for the Three Kings Festival on January 6. The festival, which has been held since 1884, pays tribute to the Three Wise Men who brought gifts of incense, gold and myrrh to Bebe Jesus. While the holiday is celebrated throughout Puerto Rico, the largest gathering is in a town outside of Ponce called Juana Díaz. People of all ages and nationalities converge in this small town to observe and participate in the festival.

The night before, the children leave hay or grass next to their beds to feed the camels ridden by the Magi. In return, the children will find the gifts that the Magi left them, just as the Kings left gifts for the Child Jesus. After opening their gifts, the families head to Calle Comercio in the center of Juana Díaz to await the arrival of the Three Wise Men. This is actually a homecoming for the Juana Díaz Kings as they are so popular that they actually tour the entire island. Collectors are encouraged to be more than spectators. Anyone who dresses up as a pastor, adult, child, Puerto Rican or not, can join the parade. The parade is usually quite long, and includes simple shepherds and elaborate floats. The crowd waits in growing anticipation and just when it seems like they can’t wait any longer, the Three Wise Men make a grand entrance. Dressed in the best robes of gold, blue and red, with crowns of brilliant jewels on their heads, the kings make their appearance. However, riding a horse, not a camel, the three kings are treated like rock stars by the fans who adore them. The Kings are announced one by one, and amid cheers and sometimes women fainting, they go to a huge altar installed in the Plaza. From there the festivities take on a more solemn tone as the Kings meet the Child Jesus and Holy Mass is celebrated.

Things don’t stay solemn for long. After mass, the kings return among the frenzied crowd. Although they are gone until next year, there is still a lot to do. At the edges of the Plaza, artists and artisans have set up stalls selling the best Puerto Rican handicrafts. If you’re hungry, there are many food vendors selling drinks, ice cream, and traditional Puerto Rican food. If you get tired, you can simply sit on one of the benches under the trees in the Plaza and people watch. You will not get bored.

So if you’re looking to extend your Christmas season a bit more, head to Puerto Rico and Juana Díaz. It is a festival that you will never forget.

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