For many people, Christmas is the most significant holiday of the year, but people on the small island of Puerto Rico would disagree.

Puerto Ricans celebrate Christmas Day, but the Christmas season is not over until Jan. 6.

Jan. 6 is known as “el Día de Reyes” or Day of Epiphany and it celebrates the arrival of Los Tres Reyes or The Three Kings, also known as the Magi.

Instead of Santa Claus bringing gifts to the children, it is believed that the Three Kings magically deliver gifts to each house since they were the ones that brought gifts to the young Jesus Christ in the Bible.

In preparation for the arrival of the Magi, children gather freshly cut grass for the animals that carry the Magi and place it in a shoebox. The shoebox will go under the tree so that the Magi can easily find it. During the night, the Magi visit each house and place gifts under the tree next to the shoebox.

The three stars in Orion’s belt are often associated with the Three Kings. The Orion constellation does not appear in Puerto Rico until late in the year, fitting for the Christmas season.

Orion's belt is often associated with the Three Kings.

Orion's belt is often associated with the Three Kings. Photo credit: Pixabay

El Dia de Reyes is not the only significant day during the Christmas season. “Nochebuena” or Christmas Eve is a night when friends and family gather for big traditional dinners, gift exchanges and activities such as “parrandas”. Many people will also attend midnight mass to commemorate the birth of Christ.

A parranda is a popular Christmas season activity in Puerto Rico. Similar to Christmas caroling, groups will quietly gather at the front door of a household late at night to sing traditional Christmas songs. Many people carry instruments such as guitars, maracas, panderos, güiros and cuatros to accompany the music. The idea is to wake up the household with their music and surprise them.

It is then traditional for the household to provide refreshments for their guests and to join them as they move on to the next household. This continues through the night and usually ends at dawn with a big party at the final house.

Pork is a popular holiday dish in Puerto Rico.

Pork is a popular holiday dish in Puerto Rico. Photo credit: Pixabay

Many traditional holiday dinners consist of “lechón asado” or roasted pork, “arroz con gandules” or pigeon peas and rice and “pasteles” or a green banana patty filled with meat (similar to a tamale). Side dishes can include potato salad, pasta salad, and “morcilla” or rice-filled blood sausages. The most popular holiday dessert is “tembleque,” a coconut pudding topped with cinnamon.

Holiday dinners are usually served with “coquito,” an alcoholic beverage made with coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, rum and various spices.