Puerto Ricans are a friendly, outgoing, and always looking for a reason to have fun. Visit Puerto Rico from Thanksgiving Day until mid January and you’ll find the island in full party mode. Of course they enjoy Christmas and New Years but in Puerto Rico, the really big celebration is reserved for the Three Kings Festival on January 6. The festival, celebrated since 1884, honors the Three Kings who brought gifts of incense, gold and myrrh to the Baby Jesus. While the holiday is celebrated throughout Puerto Rico, the largest gathering is found in a town outside Ponce, called Juana Diaz. People of all ages and nationalities converge on this small town to watch and participate in the festival.
The night before, children leave hay or grass by their beds to feed the camels ridden by the Three Kings. In return, children will find presents left to them by the Three Kings, just as the Kings left presents for Baby Jesus. After opening their gifts, families head to Comercio Street in downtown Juana Diaz to await the coming of the Three Kings. This is actually a homecoming for the Kings from Juana Diaz as they are so popular, they actually tour the entire island. Gatherers are encouraged to be more than spectators. Anyone who dresses up as a shepherd, adult, child, Puerto Rican or not, can join the parade. The parade is generally quite long, including simple shepherds as well as elaborate floats. The crowds wait in growing anticipation and just when it seems they can’t wait any longer, the Three Kings make a grand entrance. Dressed in the finest robes of gold, blue, and red, with crowns of shimmering jewels atop their heads, the kings make their appearance. Riding horses though, not camels, the Three Kings are treated like rock stars by the adoring fans. The Kings are announced one by one, and over cheers and sometimes swooning women, make their way to a huge altar set up in the Plaza. From there the festivities take on a more solemn tone as the Kings find the Baby Jesus and the Holy Mass is celebrated.
Things don’t stay solemn for long. After the Mass, the Kings make their way back through the frenzied crowds. Though they are gone until next year, there is still much to do. On the edges of the Plaza, artists and craftsman have set up booths selling the finest Puerto Rican crafts. If you get hungry, there are plenty of 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 won’t get bored.
So if you are looking to stretch out your holiday season a little longer, head to Puerto Rico and Juana Diaz. It is a festival you will never forget.