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  • Writer's pictureAliana Arzola

Three Kings Day: Guavate Edition

Updated: Feb 20, 2021

Puerto Ricans celebrate Christmas with tons of rhythm, music, and, of course, food! The Three Wise Men who followed the star to honor Baby Jesus have a very special place in our traditions. Kids anxiously await the much-anticipated arrival of Three King's Day on January 6th. The night before children all over Puerto Rico fill decorated shoeboxes with grass for the King's camels to calm their huger after a long journey. Even before sunrise, the kids wake up to find a trail of the grass that leads them to find gifts left by Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar, the Three Kings. A smile forms on their faces, and they eagerly call their parents to announce the joyous occasion. Certainly, Three Kings Day is a pivotal holiday during Christmas Season. My favorite part of the day is the paseíto (road trip) that comes after all the gifts have been opened!

The Puerto Rican mountainside is the favored destination. A truly magical region of our island filled with cool air, great food, and a lot--a lot-- of twists and turns in the roads! This time, my family and I went to Guavate, a neighborhood in rural, mountainous Cayey known for its year -long delectable lechón or pork. Do not worry, not that many twists and turns! Guavate is a must route for the famous chinchorreo (day trip where one stops in several eateries to eat fried food). However, we were not here for the chinchorreo today! We were going to visit a monument dedicated to the Three Kings.

Once there, the air was chilly, and the sky was bright. Driving along the gravel pathway to the parking, we saw many sculptures depicting Taíno symbols. Deities, animals, you name it. The sculptures were present and evoking an era long gone, but not forgotten. They looked absolutely stunning, made in stone or marble. When I entered the small outdoor patio that housed the workshop and exhibition, I was offered a small bag of candy by a smiling woman. I saw the smile on her eyes as she was wearing a mask! The monument consisted of three huge statues: the Three Kings, standing in their marble glory atop the hill. Behind it all was one man: Juan Santtos Torres, an incredibly talented Puerto Rican stone sculptor.

I ventured inside a small room, the only indoors area, in which were hundreds of sticky notes with messages left by tourists and wanderers. All the colors and words made for a colorful spectacle juxtaposed with the several sculptures inside. The walls were plastered with motivational phrases on the walls. Some of the notes wished for a happier year, healthier times, and for one to trust in God. The room was little, but the inspirational phrases made it feel huge. The colors, the words, the environment, the candy in my pocket, the people--it all felt like what Three Kings' Day is all about: Baby Jesus, family, and fun.

We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Also, in the room were several sculptures, made by Mr. Santtos throughout the years. Most of them were depictions of the Three Kings, but others were images of West African symbols. My family fixated on one set of Kings: gray, white, and beige. We talked with Mr. Santtos, who explained a bit more about the sculptures. Each had a specific meaning and purpose in the set. The pinkish rock came from Barrio Collores, Juana Díaz and represents the Taíno culture. The white marble, much like the one from Italy used by Michelangelo to create La Pieta, channeled our European roots. The black stone represented the island's African heritage and was a remnant of millennia-old rock. What a story! It was a great way to combine our ethnic background with a holiday icon.

Outside the patio was the main attraction: the Three King statues. The BIG ones. They were made of a white stone and commanded the hill they were on. You could see them from a mile away, probably. Below them, one could also appreciate a Puerto Rican flag. The flag was ever-present in that place; when I got there, Mr. Santtos was handing small flags out to all the kids. The monument is a true symbol of Puerto Rican pride and tradition--what are our holidays without the Kings? They certainly are a cornerstone of our story. And of course, isn't our flag another source of pride and community for us Puerto Ricans at home and abroad?

This mountain of a museum was an unforgettable experience. It was a mixture of nature, culture, tradition, and pure art, all in the chilly Cayey landscape. It was an experience for all the senses, one that was special and unique among my Three Kings' Days. Not to mention, with the pandemic, options for a fun time outside are limited. This was a great opportunity to experience the countryside safely while supporting our artisans! I highly recommend the visit to the Monte Sagrado de los Reyes Magos, and maybe stop by a lechonera or two on the way! Just an example of many of the wonders of my big little island.

Stay safe, stay cultured,

Aliana :)

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