"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy Three Kings' Day!

Or, as we say on the island, in our typical Spanglish: "Happy Trikin Day!" ;)

One of my favorite pieces of Puerto Rican art, and one I happen to own.
An original print poster by Irene Delano of the Three Kings' horses.
Three King's Day celebrates the day that the three kings aka the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem to bring gifts to baby Jesus. It's one of the holidays the island retains from our Spanish ancestors, and it is one of the most magical.

We celebrate regular Christmas day, yes, but there were always questions about the big guy with the red fur coat and the reindeer: doesn't he get hot bringing gifts in a tropical climate in that suit? How does he get in the house when no one has chimneys? So if he doesn't need the chimney to get into the house, say he teleports in...why does he need the reindeer? You see where I'm going. Most kids I knew growing up had stopped believing in him by the time they were 8, which even as an adult myself always made me sad. Christmas is a magical time of the year, and I think it is important as a child to believe in magic, any magic, for as long as you can before you become an adult with logical scientific explanations for everything.

I still believe in magic. Not in Santa Claus, obviously, but there are certain things that can't be explained with logic and science, and I like to believe there is still some sort of magic in the world. Some things in nature are so incredibly beautiful, so perfect in what is a completely random occurrence (go read about the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Mean; it's one of those things that gives me goosebumps), that for me, it just falls into the realm of magic.

Take snowflakes, for example. How many will fall at once from the sky over a given area, and each one is a completely different from every other that is falling from the sky. A uniqueness of mathematical precision, created simply by cold air and humidity. I think that's just plain magical.

Three Kings' Day is one of those things that is still magical for me.

It starts when you're a child. As soon as you can walk, your parents encourage you to go outside to pick grass for the Three Kings' horses (or camels, depending on what your grandparents taught your parents). You select the greenest, most luscious grass in your yard and collect it in a shoe box that you fill up, and you place the open box either next to your bed or under the Christmas tree (also depends on how the tradition has been practiced in your family; in our house, we put the grass shoe boxes under the Christmas tree.) Since in my family we believed that the Kings came on horses, my brother and I would also put a couple of carrots and sliced apples with the grass as treats.

You leave a note for the Kings on the Christmas tree, telling them what you would like for Three Kings' Day, and go to bed early. The next morning you wake up...to find that most of the grass is gone, the apples and carrots have been eaten.

Unlike Santa, in our house the Three Kings left us notes in return, telling us how thankful they were for all the food we'd left out for their horses and telling us what good kids my brother and I were. There would be gifts under the Christmas tree as well. Never the really awesome gifts: we received the stuff we really wanted for Christmas. But for Three Kings' Day, we received the other stuff, the stuff that we had mentioned off-handedly that we wanted or needed. Stuff that would make a difference. Sometimes the gifts were small. Sometimes it was gift cards or money for us to spend on whatever we wanted, especially as we got older.

But the best part of the whole day was the magic.

As I got older, I started to get suspicious, of course. I'd look in the garbage can for the carrots and apples. I looked all over our considerably large yard (we lived on almost 2 acres) to see where the grass clippings had been tossed. I expected to find the clippings strewn over some part of the yard.

And you know what? I never found them. What about the poop, you say? If there were really three horses, there should be some poop somewhere. Well, there was never any poop. But you don't think about those things when you're a kid. At least I didn't.

My grandfather was the great magician in this scenario. I've mentioned on here how he lived in the little house at the bottom of the hill that was our property. My grandparents were divorced; the rest of the family (my mom, the aunts and my brother and me) lived with our grandmother in the big house at the top of the hill.

So part of the Three King's Day tradition was to walk down the hill to Grandpa's house to get the rest of our gifts. The best gifts were always at his house. In his backyard was where my horse, Lucero, later lived and where we had our chickens, ducks and geese. I named Lucero on a Three Kings' Day. Lucero means "star" in Spanish.

After opening the gifts in his house, we'd then sit down and talk with Grandpa for awhile in his house. His house, with the huge mural up on the wall above his desk of the Three Kings riding their horses at a gallop across a star-lit sky. My brother and I had drawn that mural for him one Christmas. His house with the mural above the desk was always my personal shelter, up until the day he died.

He told us the story of how the Three Kings are the stars in Orion's belt. On Three King's eve, you can watch the three stars go down until they touch the horizon, when the Kings arrive on Earth.

Orion's Belt
The magic of the day tied into his house and his being. I'm still glad I left the island the same year that he died, before the holidays rolled around. The empty house on Three Kings' Day would have been too much to bear.

The year before I grew up in my mind was the year where we set out water buckets for the horses. I don't know why we'd never thought to do that before. Maybe it was because at this point I had already been bitten by the horse bug, and thought, "Well the horses will be tired and hot, they need water." It had been raining, so it was extra humid with the heat. The next morning, we found the usual mess of grass under the Christmas tree. And the water in the buckets? Half of it was gone, and there was the appropriate accompanying mess of water around the buckets. What you would expect from a horse that drank water.

And there were hoofprints. Muddy hoof prints all up and down our driveway. Barefoot horse hoof prints.

I did not have my horse yet. We did not have neighbors with horses.

Both my brother and I gasped when we saw the prints. We ran all up and down the driveway, down the point to where the hoofprints faded and then disappeared by our gate.

I don't remember what I got that Three Kings' Day. But I remember the overwhelming joy at the possibility that magic and unexplainable things are something that exist in this world.

And to this day, I don't know how my grandfather pulled that one off, and my mom has never told me. And you know what? I'd rather she not tell me. Even in my now adult mind, I prefer to believe that it was all real magic.

So how do we celebrate now? We give small gifts on this day, like a gift card or a small amount of money, enough to go out and do something fun. We don't set out grass anymore for the horses. But we still write our letters to the Three Kings with everything we would like for this year. The requests are rarely material anymore. The letters are folded and go under our pillows at night, to be placed unopened the next morning in a notebook for safekeeping. I never open the letter again, until maybe a year or more later when I run across it again.

In my mind, I can still hear my grandfather's laughter on this morning. My grandfather the magician, and the accomplice of the Three Wise Kings on earth.

I like to think that he now rides with them on my Lucero, Lucero who is now also a star, on a sparkling path of starlight across the heavens.

Happy Three Kings' Day! May you all experience the magic today, in one form or another. Make a wish today, because it just might come true.


  1. This is such a sweet story and such wonderful memories. I love reading this. Thank you for sharing Saiph. I have never celebrated 'Triking Day' but I will have to remember it. Hope you have some magic today with Lily!

    1. Thank you! I hope you have magic with your girl today too! :)

  2. Happy Three Kings' Day to you! I really enjoyed the story of the three kings and the tradition you have. And I totally agree to keep the magic in not knowing how those hoof prints got there :)

    1. It was the best day ever, that one. :)

  3. Wow, what a wonderful tradition. And one I think I would like to share with my son, but I don't know the story. And he's grown past believing in magic, but not in superpowers.

    Orion is my absolute favorite star group.

    And the horses were in your living room.

    1. Orion is my favorite constellation, too, and it all comes from this. I love the idea of a constellation that is a hunter, I loved looking for it in the night sky even on the most remote parts of the island and still being able to find it, and knowing that the belt of the constellation was part of such a long-standing and beautiful tradition. "Saiph" is the name of one of Orion's feet. ;)

      My mom read this post. She told me that she never did learn exactly how my grandfather pulled off the hoofprints.

      The horses were definitely in the living room!