Feliz Navidad: Puerto Rican tradition says Christmas isn't over yet

SANDUSKY For kids in America, Christmas has come and gone. But when longtime Sandusky resident Ramon
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

For kids in America, Christmas has come and gone. But when longtime Sandusky resident Ramona Ortega, 78, was a little girl in Puerto Rico, the big day was Jan. 6.

That was Three Kings Day, Epiphany, the traditional ending of the 12 days of Christmas.

Three Kings Day remembers when the Three Kings of the Orient -- or the Magi -- showed up to deliver presents to the baby Jesus. In Spanish-speaking countries, the Three Kings, not Santa Claus, show up to bring presents to the children, or at least the good ones, Ortega recalls.

She remembers leaving treats out for the Three Kings to eat. Naturally, the Three Kings of the Orient rode on camels -- not reindeer -- so she left grass for the camels to nibble on.

"The Three Kings bring you toys," Ortega said.

Growing up on a sugar cane and rice farm, her family didn't have a lot of money. But they always had plenty of food and fellowship.

Ortega said she's told nowadays in Puerto Rico, people celebrate a mixture of American and traditional customs, with toys arriving both on Dec. 25 and Jan. 6.

Ortega's son, Oscar Ortega, said when he was growing up in Sandusky, Santa brought the toys.

"The only thing different was the food," he said.

The whole family would get together and everyone would bring a dish.

"We used to have a whole roast pig," he said. "That was Christmas dinner."

The crowd of relatives ranged in size, but it was often necessary to rent a hall.

"It could be as small as 20," he said. "It could be a couple hundred."

The dinner would include traditional Puerto Rican favorites such as Spanish rice, also known as yellow rice.

"I am biased, but my Mom makes the best Spanish rice ever," Oscar Ortega said.

Ramona Ortega said she came to Florida when she was 27. Her husband took the family to Michigan when he got a job there.

"It was too cold," she said.

The family relocated to Sandusky in 1954.

"This was a beautiful town ... a lot of work," Mrs. Ortega said.

But wasn't Sandusky cold, too?

"It's a lot better than Michigan," she insisted.