Today is El Dia de Reyes or El Dia de los Reyes Magos, Three Kings’ Day in English (also known as Epiphany). In the US this day means squat, it’s just another day as any, but in Puerto Rico today is a holiday, the culmination of the Christmas season, and a big day in our national culture. I’m not entirely sure how big of a deal Three Kings Day is in other Latin countries or in Spain, but I do know it is celebrated, as we get the custom from our Spanish ancestry. In Puerto Rico it has taken on a life of its own, with parties and feasts all over the island, none bigger than the celebration in the town of Juana Diaz.

Thing is, my Mom’s maternal family is from Juana Diaz, so that Fiesta de Reyes is not only a national celebration, it is also a family tradition, one that has gone unbroken for at least the last 50-60 years (and probably longer – I need to find out for sure)[1]. Every year, all of us living in the San Juan area, would jump into our cars early in the morning and trek down the 2 or so hours to the Ortiz household right on the town’s main street to the central plaza, and spend the day there, wandering the plaza, checking out all the artisans and their wares, and the various musical acts as well. Then we’d have tons of food over at the house, and go back at night, tired and stuffed and happy.

Obviously, not being Catholic anymore, Three Kings Day has no meaning for me, at least not religiously. I can honestly say the religious aspect of the day ceased to have any impact on me even before I moved from Puerto Rico, much more so now that I am Jewish, but the family tradition aspect of it, that still has a pull. It’s been about nine years since I last went to Juana Diaz, but every January 6 I would get a call from Mom from Juana Diaz and at least for a few moments I’d be a part of it.

This morning I was the one to make the call, to my Aunt, and at least for a couple of minutes I was a part of it again. I wish I was able to teleport, so I could be with my family for a little bit then return home for dinner. At least my sister is there with my nephews representing our family nucleus.

This is just a constant with which I live: the biggest drawback to having converted to Judaism was the rift it created regarding my family traditions. I mean, it’s not like I can’t ever go to a family celebration, but it is different. I can’t eat with everyone, for example, and food is one of those universal social glues that hold bonds together. Being that Puerto Rico is very much a Catholic country, the difference in religion is a big deal, especially during Christmas, when a huge part of Puerto Rican culture gets displayed (be it in food, holidays, celebrations, art, music, etc). The physical separation between PR and Miami offers a buffer but every so often emotions seep through, like today.

Like I said, it’s just a reality of my choice in life. I accept it and live with it, even if sometimes, for a little bit, I look with a small amount of longing at what was.

[1] I had my sister ask around while she was in Juana Diaz, and as far as anyone can tell, the tradition of our family to get together there for Fiesta de Reyes is about 100 years old. That is powerful, and I need to reflect on that more.

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