Growing up in the mountains of Puerto Rico, I learned from a very young age that Christmas was the longest season of celebration. The festivities begin right after the turkey was carved on Thanksgiving Day and last until after Epiphany with eight days of party called the octavitas. During this long Christmas season, every household is prepared, because you never know when a parranda might land on your front door. For my family, the biggest celebration has always been that of the Día de los Reyes Magos or Epiphany Day.
In my hometown of Castañer, a small poblado nestled between in the mountains of Puerto Rico, Three Kings Day has always had special significance. I remember our family gathering at my grandparents' home, waiting for the Three Wise Men to come by on their horses, tossing candy to us kids who had been waiting to see them. As the procession continued, we all joined them and walked with them to the main plaza for the celebration. Music, food, more candy and even toys were awaiting us there.
The Feast of the Epiphany is a religious holiday, which commemorates the visit of the Magi or the Wise Men -- depending on the translation of the Bible used -- to Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The short story of this visit is only found in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12. Theologically speaking, Epiphany is the celebration of God's manifestation to the world. The Bible does not say how many Magi came to visit, but tradition says there were three, based on the presents they brought; gold, myrrh and frankincense. Tradition has even named the Magi: Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar. I learned those names early on and I also learned that they would bring me presents if I was a good boy, obeyed my parents and did well in school.
The tradition is for kids -- and adults too -- to write a letter to the Wise Men with their wishes. The night before, the whole family gathers some grass for the tired and hungry horses and then this grass is put into boxes under the beds. Why there were no cookies left for the Wise Men escapes me. Perhaps the Wise Men have a deal with Santa, in which they share their horses' grass with the reindeer, and Santa gives them some of his cookies. I don't know... The morning of Jan. 6, on the Day of Epiphany, kids wake up to find presents under their beds.
This year, I decided to write a letter to the Three Wise Men again. Since there are three, I hope that each one of them can work on bringing me one of the presents I ask for. Here is my wish list for the Tres Reyes Magos:
First, I wish for religious communities of all faiths to start seriously talking and acting on welcoming and celebrating the trans community. Perhaps one of you, dear kings, could help our congregations understand that God has no issues with people transcending their genders. For us Christians, the mere fact of accepting a God who transcends God's own divinity in order to become flesh and blood should be reason enough to open our doors to the trans community. Faith communities have much to gain from the inclusion of trans people. I believe that it is time for all of us in churches, mosques, pagodas and temples of all faiths to stand in solidarity with the trans community.
Second, I wish for the Latino communities to recognize that we -- gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people -- exist. Really. We exist! I would like for one of the three kings to tell our families, our friends and all those institutions that serve the Latino communities that we also face discrimination, racism, poverty, unemployment and homelessness, among others. Outside of the urban centers of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, we seldom see Latino cultural centers or service agencies addressing the needs of LGBT Hispanics. Moreover, when Hispanic people come out to our families, the common reaction is to ignore or dismiss our sexuality. Also, recent studies (PDF) and news articles have shown that LGBT youth of color -- which includes Hispanic youth -- are disproportionally more at risk of experiencing homelessness than LGBT white youths. Yet, our Latino communities pride ourselves in being all centered on our familias. Where are the familias who will open their home doors to queer Hispanic youth? I am sure that the wise men in their travels have met one too many homeless LGBT Hispanic kids. Perhaps you can share those stories with the rest of us.
Third, I wish that we could keep the meaning of Epiphany alive. As I mentioned earlier, Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God to the world. In the Christian tradition this happened through the person of Jesus, but there are many other religious traditions where similar manifestations of the Divinity are acknowledged. Perhaps we can reflect on this religious truth: God -- in whichever form you have experienced God -- always manifests God-self to all of humanity. There is not one person that misses this opportunity to experience God. Ethnicity, orientation, gender, age, religion, political affiliation, economic status and any other category we humans have created to divide us mean nothing to the Holy One. God's manifestation is for all!
So, there is my wish list. Hopefully the Three Wise Men will bring them all this year and we can join in the procession to the main plaza to celebrate, like a huge, joyous family; sharing music and food and sweets and perhaps one or two toys as well.
Follow Rev. J. Manny Santiago on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mannysantiago