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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Three Kings In Juana Diaz
By J.A. del Rosario
January 2, 2004
Being a colony has some advantages. Puerto Rico, which was under Spanish rule for 400 years, and under U.S. sovereignty for the past 100 years, has acquired traditions from both countries. This is why we celebrate two gift-giving days during the Christmas holidays. The first is the standard December 25, and the second is Three Kings Day on January 6.
The importance of these two holidays varies depending on where you are on the island. In the city, it is more common for children to receive the big gifts on Christmas Day, and smaller gifts on Three Kings Day, whereas in the rural towns it is common to find the opposite trend.
The biggest Three Kings Day celebration in Puerto Rico takes place every year in the southern town of Juana Diaz. The Festivity of the Three Kings, as the activity is called is more than 100 years old, and has become one of the main attractions of this small rural town.
The Three Kings celebration started here in 1883, by a Spanish priest named Father Valentín Echevarria. It was Valentín who organized the first Three Kings procession, and accompanied the march with a group of young local musicians.
Originally, the celebration consisted of three men dressed as the Three Kings, marching through the town and stepping into the church to listen to mass and eventually offer some gifts to the baby Jesus in the altar.
Since then, the activity has added some entertainment without losing its religious spirit. Today, people from San Juan, as well as Juana Diaz's surrounding towns flock on Jan. 6 for the traditional procession.
If you make the trip to Juana Diaz, the town also has some other features you will want to check out.
First there is the Salto de los Collores, in Barrio Collores. The Salto is a popular waterfall. For those who like to suffer a little, get underneath the cold stream of water, which gets even colder in January.
For the archaelogy buffs there is La Cueva Lucera. A cave where Taino indians left a series of petroglyphs and drawings. You should be warned that for many years the caves were left abandoned by the municipal and central governments, and they became a hangout spot for local disenfranchised youth wielding spray paint cans. Unfortunately, the results are still very visible today. A large stalagmite on the main gallery of the cave system still has "Stone Love" spray painted in red.
Another stop to make is at the house of Dr. Enrique Marrero. Marrero is famous in the town for his 40-foot wide Nativity scene that includes little houses, cities, oceans, shepherds and even the Jordan River. . Dr. Marrero, creates the miniature buildings by hand using gypsum and fiber glass.
Every October Marrero starts setting up the complex Nativity scene which grows a little every year, as the good doctor continues to add buildings and new houses.
Dr. Marrero's Nativity scene is open to the public throughout December, until Jan.6. So if you are in town checking out the Three Kings procession, it is your last chance to check out this very local treasure.
Marrero is always there and is very accessible. All you have to do is ask, and he will tell you the whole story behind the Nativity.
The Nativity is located on #2 of Mariano Abril street. It is open every day from 6:00PM to 9:00PM.
And for those who need more action, there is always Campo Sicario, a paintball facility where you can strap on your gun and go on a colorful shooting spree in the woods.
But in the end, if you go down to Juana Diaz, you will see the true charm of the town all around you, in the rural areas full of lush vegetation and large trees, and the twists and turns of the Jacagua River which zig zags through the town.
Campo Sicario 787-284-1300
J.A. del Rosario, a business reporter for The San Juan Star, is a remedial guitar player and an incorrigible nightcrawler. He can be contacted at: : email@example.com