Families from Puerto Rico celebrate holiday tradition in Roxbury

Tomas Gonzales, portraying one of the Three Kings, greeted Edrick Claudio at a Roxbury celebration Saturday.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Tomas Gonzales, portraying one of the Three Kings, greeted Edrick Claudio at a Roxbury celebration Saturday.

After Hurricane Maria ravaged her homeland in September, Veronica Martinez said she was left with next to nothing. Everything she had in her Caguas, Puerto Rico, home was gone, she said.

“Food, gas, electricity, water — everything destroyed,” she said.

With three young daughters, she decided to move to Dorchester three months ago to start rebuilding her life.


As the holiday season neared, she thought she would not get to celebrate Las Octavitas, a Puerto Rican tradition that follows the Jan. 6 Three Kings Day celebration and lasts for eight days, marking the end of the holiday season.

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But Saturday morning, Martinez was proven wrong.

She and her family were among the nearly 100 people at a city-organized celebration — with crafts, traditional Puerto Rican breakfast snacks, more than 200 presents for youngsters, gift cards, and an appearance by the Three Kings.

Sonia Gomez-Banrey, a Boston Public Schools official and organizer of Saturday’s event, said theevent was organized in order to hand out the gifts — donated by city employees — and give the displaced families information about available local resources and schools. Essentially, the event welcomed them to the city.

On the second floor of the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Roxbury, attendeeswere greeted with tables topped with pastries, coffee, orange juice, crackers, bread, and cheese. Gomez-Banrey said 68 families registered for the event — including about 96 children.


At one table, children made paper plate crowns adorned with shiny gems, then donned them during the celebration.

Luis Santiago said the roof of his house in Loiza, Puerto Rico, was destroyed by the hurricane. He spent 79 days without electricity before moving to Braintree in late December.

“There are still a lot of places that are like that,” he said.

Santiago also said the schools attended by his three children — ages 16, 14, and 7 — had not reopened and he wanted to get them back in classes.

Santiago said he was grateful for all the support he and his family have received in Boston.


“Thankful for everyone who is doing all of this for us,” he said.

Natalia Urtubey, executive director of Imagine Boston 2030, said City Hall’s Latinx Employee Resource Group wanted to do something for the children who had arrived in Boston from Puerto Rico because of the hurricane. After gathering gifts and hosting gift-wrapping parties, the end product was Saturday’s celebration.

“It’s really wonderful,” she said. “It really shows the spirit of City Hall. Employees were eager” to help.

As lively music played from the speakers, people flowed around tables that had pamphlets and handouts — in English and Spanish — about available resources, such as accessing help finding a school and housing.

Officials told everyone at the party they should not hesitate to call 311, the city’s non-emergency services and information phone number, with any questions.

Parents and kids lined up to choose a gift from a table that had them organized by age category. After getting a present, some kids jolted back to their table, while others stopped by the Three Kings and posed for a photo.

Martinez, the woman who thought she wouldn’t get to celebrate the tradition this year, said her efforts to build a better life here are still in progress. She said she might one day visit Puerto Rico again, but Saturday she got a little piece of home in Boston.

“It makes me feel like I am with my culture,” she said. “I think I am happier than my daughters.”

Alejandro Serrano can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @serrano_alej.