While preparing for my reading, I ran across this brief account of the tradition of Los Reyes in Puerto Rico on the page of artist Antonio Broccoli Porto:
Dia de los Reyes in Puerto Rico
The Feast of the Three Kings also known as the Epiphany takes place every year on January 6th. It is an intricate part of Puerto Rican folklore. Traditionally, this day is very important, especially for children, for it is on this eve that they will receive their gifts. On the feast of the Epiphany, the Three kings visited the newly born Christ Child in Bethlehem bearing him gifts. This tradition is repeated and reflected in present day with the belief that on this eve the 3 Kings will visit every good child to deliver them gifts. Tradition states that on the Eve of the Epiphany children collect hay, straw or grass and place it in boxes or containers under their beds. This gesture is a gift of food for the Kings' Horses while they rest in between deliveries. Note:(we have no Camels in PR). If a child is good for the past year he will receive candies, sweets or toys. If the child was misbehaved or naughty he would instead find a lump of dirt or charcoal in his box. This tradition is much older than that of Santa's visit on Christmas Eve.
It sounds lovely... How I wish it would match my own memories of Los Reyes Magos!
For whatever reason, this holiday was never a big deal in my house... Yes, the night of the 5th I'd leave some yerbita in a shoe box under the tree--my older brothers had a much different idea of what this ritual was supposed to mean--and wait in anticipation for the presents the morning after. This anticipation, however, was rather low-key... Somehow I knew that the big presents, if there were any that year, had already been given. The holiday felt like a consolation prize, which for kids is not really a bad thing... It's just not the best thing. So I was merely content with the thought that I'd wake up and find a little something under the tree. At school we were very grateful for the three foreign men in their gaudy attire, for it meant that our vacation would last a week longer and that if we hadn't received a parranda yet, there was still time... But the sad truth remained: those poor wise Reyes never got first-page coverage at home.
Now, after more than two decades of living in the US, I find myself nostalgic for a tradition that never actually felt mine. I want to pass this on to my child as part of her heritage, just as my husband does with his King Cakes and Mardi Gras parades. Yet, somehow, I end up feeling like an impostor.
Is there still time to reclaim it, I wonder... Is it too late for me? For us? If I were to get up from this warm hotel bed and venture outside for a few minutes, come back with a handful of grass and place it under the bed... I wonder what would happen.