In Puerto Rico, the biggest celebration of the Christmas season is focused mainly on January 6, the day of the liturgical celebration of the Three Kings. Gaspar, Melchor and Baltasar are the names of the Three Kings, although in Puerto Rico the identifications are different from the European traditions. Here, and in Cuba, the North African king is Melchor, not Gaspar, and Baltasar is represented as the oldest king with gray hair and beard. Gaspar, then, is the young, beardless king.
The reasons for the strong popularity of Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico are not clearly known, although there are various theories. The first is that January 6 was the date that the first Mass was held in the Americas, a tradition that with time has fallen from memory. The second is that the tradition comes from the diablillos celebration, a Spanish carnival festival that represented good and evil through various characters and was documented by Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz. He found the festival was celebrated particularly by blacks, for whom Three Kings Day was a time they could freely go from house to house wearing masks and asking for alms without being recognized.
The celebration of Three Kings Day is so important in Puerto Rican culture that the verb reyar, or "to king," has been coined, which means to enjoy the celebration of the Three Kings festivals with singing accompanied by traditional musical instruments.
In the tradition of carvings of saints, there is a great variety of iconography of the Three Kings: mounted on horses before the Christ child, mounted on horses and looking left, as if following the star to Bethlehem, or on foot and side by side on a common base. They are presented as part of the scene of Christ's birth or as individual saints. Generally, they carry gifts in one or both arms. These may be the traditional gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense or may be changed to typical Puerto Rican items, such as musical instruments.
The popularity of the Three Kings is not limited to the carving of saints, but also appears in other forms of artisanry, including silkscreen prints, sculptures in ceramics, bamboo and metal, as well as paintings.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Doreen Colón Camacho, La imaginería popular religiosa, 1995. Center for Humanities Studies, University of Turabo Museum.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 09, 2010.