On Isla Mujeres, Mexico, there is a very special celebration that takes place on January 6th – exactly twelve days after Christmas. Día de los Reyes, or Three Kings Day, is a local tradition on Isla Mujeres that celebrates the day the wise men visited Jesus bearing gifts. Families and friends gather to drink hot chocolate and share sweet bread, people dress up in costumes of ‘The Three Kings,’ and parents give presents to their children.
But for many of the hardworking people of the island, Three Kings Day is less glamorous. Most work 6 days a week, 10-12 hours a day for the equivalent of $10-$20 a day in US dollars and can’t afford to buy their children a toy for the holiday. Some don’t have enough food to eat on a regular basis.
Seeing the need, every year Helen Teneke works alongside restaurant owner Ruben Martinez and a host of volunteers to buy and fill 50-60 baskets with food, toys, and baby formula, diapers, and other gifts to give out to families in need on the island. The whole process takes all year to plan for, and an intense week of preparation and local shopping for Helen and everyone involved.
“It just brings tears to your eyes to see how excited the kids are,” says Helen. “We do a trial run and pick up what we think should be in the hamper and then determine the cost. We talk to Ruben to find out how many families he has that are in need and tweak the items to fit our budget. Because of the generous people that donate money and toys throughout the year, we have also been able to increase our number of hampers each year. This year we think we will be able to provide 50-60. The goal is to provide a toy and a good meal to every child on the island!
“I love Isla and its people. They are so happy, friendly and always willing to help. They work very hard for what little they have, all while living in 2 or 3 rooms shared between 3 or 4 generations where the hammocks are brought out for sleeping at night. You never hear them complain. It inspires and humbles me every time I visit.”
Ruben’s restaurant has hosted a Three Kings Day event for 7 years running and has brought countless shrieks of laughter to the children of the island.