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Orlando Sentinel

His Gift: A Favorite Holiday

Scott Powers

December 31, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Bill Negron wants to see Orlando embracing a childhood holiday memory that's found deep in the hearts of many Central Floridians, yet is completely unknown to many others.

Negron, 46, slips easily into remembrance of his Three Kings Days past. Negron, his sister and three brothers, like other children in Puerto Rico where they grew up, would scrounge the largest shoeboxes they could find, stuff them with grass and bowls of water for the kings' camels, and leave them under their beds on the night of Jan. 5.

On the morning of Jan. 6, "you get up and follow the grass; there would be a trail, until you would find the toys," Negron explained.

Negron settled in Orlando and became a successful businessman, with his own real estate brokerage and mortgage-service companies. When he recalls Three Kings Day, his eyes take on a childlike glitter, and his face softens into a smile of simple joy.

"It's magic," he said.

Three Kings Day is widely celebrated in Latin American and other Spanish-speaking countries with gift-giving, caroling, parties and Christian religious observances. It has roots in older, broader Roman Catholic traditions in which Jan. 6 rivals Dec. 25 for Christmas activities. Three Kings Day commemorates when the biblical wise men arrived, bearing gifts, at the birth manger of baby Jesus.

But how much Three Kings Day heritage is there in Central Florida? What would it take to make Three Kings Day a broader part of Orlando-area culture? Countless families privately celebrate the day, but until recently, there has been little civic observance.

Negron is on a personal mission to change that.

On Jan. 6, Negron and a few volunteers and groups he recruited will host their second Three Kings Day Celebration from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Downey Park, at State Road 50 and Dean Road in east Orange County.

Volunteers and contributions from Negron's First American Capital Foundation, Mujeres en Accion and Casa de Puerto Rico will provide food, music, re-enactments and other activities. They also plan to have toys as gifts for children.

Last year's inaugural celebration in Downey Park drew 500 to 1,000 people. Negron wants to expand, and particularly to draw more interest from Orlando's Anglo, Asian and black populations, as well as Hispanics.

"It's a great event," said Kyle Kent, Downey Park site supervisor for Orange County parks, who didn't know much about Three Kings Day before Negron contacted him.

"We were looking to do some type of event in January for the Hispanic community anyway," Kent said. "Last year, we just threw it together. As it grows, I'm certain more folks are going to find out about it and come."

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