On Sunday's homily, the pastor of my church talked about how the Epiphany for much of the world has become an "afterthought" of the Christmas season. The tree and holiday lights have been put away and the kids are back to school but the season is not over yet. The Three Wise Men are on their way, following a star and bringing gifts to the Newborn King. In many parts of the Christian world, gifts are exchanged on January 6 and traditional cakes are baked to celebrate the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem.
In Spain, a sweet bread in the shape of a wreath known as Roscón de Reyes is bought or baked and eaten on the eve of the feast or on January 6. Inside the roscón there is a small figurine of a baby and a dry bean. The lucky one who gets the figurine is crowned king and whoever gets the bean has to pay the cost of the cake to the person that bought it. A similar tradition exists in Mexico and France.
In Puerto Rico, the feast of the Epiphany is the day the children traditionally receive their Christmas presents. On the eve of the Epiphany, children would gather grass or hay and put it inside a box, preferably a shoe box and place it under the bed. In the morning the grass is gone and replaced with unwrapped gifts left by the Three Kings. In Mexico, children put their shoes under the bed instead of a shoebox along with a note to the Kings. In Spain, the shoes are left out in the balcony and in Italy the Befana, a witch, brings stocking full of sweets or fills the socks left by the children.
The Three Wise Men are a very important element of Puerto Rican folklore. They are admired and much loved by the children and are very popular subject matter for craftsmen and artists. Last August, Annie blogged about two beautiful lithographs that she bought many years ago in Old San Juan. The subject matter of the lithos is the Three Kings. On my comments I told Annie that her blog entry had brought back many happy childhood memories from that special day when as a child I received presents from the Magi. To this day, we still celebrate the Epiphany with presents to our grown children although we don't expect them to put any grass in a shoe box. The important thing is to keep the tradition alive and for them to pass it on to their own children.
I have a very small collection of the Three Kings handcrafts made by Puerto Rican artisans. This carving was made by a santero — a craftsman that works exclusively with wood, carving religious figures. The carved figures are known as santos and this one was made in 1988 by Rivero de Orta.
A present from my brother-in-law, the three figures are made in glass by Vilma Jové. I love looking at the one-eyed Kings and find them quite whimsical.
This plate is part of a six plate collection that my dad brought from Puerto Rico about 30 years ago.