Three Kings


Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: “The Three Wise Men.” (Credit: Nina Aldin Thune)


You’d wake up in the morning wondering if they were still there but you did not want to meet them, afraid of the magic of their passage which still infused the lighted Christmas tree that you could see in the living room down the hall from your vantage point at the doorway of your bedroom.

Xmas toys were small tokens that fulfilled the date peremptorily, almost a duty since you went to an American school in which instruction occurred in English. (Both Cuban and US holidays were celebrated and they had told you about Santa Claus coming to your house with toys on Christmas Eve.) We had no problem accepting gifts from Santa Claus, but the important toys—bicycles, Lone Ranger costumes, Tonto action figures, Zorro’s secret hideout (a miniature, plastic mountain)—were brought by the Kings on January 6. Train sets were also delivered, which you were not old enough to fix, but which delighted you by running round and around on their own power and on a single track.

It made perfect sense. The heavy gifts were brought by three carriers in a caravan, rather than stuffing all the toys of the world’s children into one sled. Besides, it was ludicrous to envision reindeers in the Caribbean.

This was during the time of the early Castro revolution, before Xmas was banned and the Three Magic Kings were no longer honored.


The story of the Wise Men and the Star belongs to Matthew exclusively; the story of the Star of Bethlehem and the shepherds belongs exclusively to Luke. My devotion to the Three Kings came from my Spanish grandmother.

Beginning on Xmas Eve she would sing a song that made it seem as if the Kings were perpetually journeying through the desert:

Tan tan, van por el desierto

Tan tan, Melchor y Gaspar.

Detrás les sigue un negrito

que todos le llaman

el Rey Baltasar.


Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: “The Three Wise Men.” (Credit: Nina Aldin Thune)

On Three King´s Eve we would place buckets full of corn outside the house for the camels. (Years later in Puerto Rico we would fill buckets with grass and water, because in that island the Kings traveled on horses.) This was to procure refreshments for the camels so they could go on with their journey.

The crèche under the Xmas tree was not only a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ, but also a memorial which told the story of the great journey of the Magic Kings.


A caravan was a commercial enterprise that traversed desert paths to bring commerce and magical objects from the East to a holy child—offerings in the hour of his birth which was also the hour of his trial. Opening the gifts of the Kings you realized that you (yourself) were the god made flesh, and that the universe was rendering tribute. Their journey was all about you, once again born, re-born, with gifts under the sign of the star.

When I return to my time and place of origin, the Kings await me during Epiphany. Once, during a terrible winter, I recovered my blue-eyed daughters and my handsome son on Twelfth Night. Ever since then for me the color of the season, and the magic of the Kings, has always been blue.



Gutenzell, Germany: Baroque nativity scene, Adoration of the Magi (detail with elephant). (Credit: Andreas Praefcke)


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