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Three Kings Continues Joy Of Christmas… Officials Imitate The Magi's Generosity… Another Day To Celebrate… Volunteers Bearing Gifts

Three Kings Celebration Continues Joy Of Christmas

Festivity fills Memorial Art Gallery with Latino sounds.

Enid Arbelo

January 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Democrat & Chronicle. All rights reserved.

The sound of traditional Hispanic music filled the rooms of the Memorial Art Gallery on Sunday in celebration of Three Kings Day.

There were no turtle doves or lords a leaping on this 12th day of Christmas celebration, but there was plenty of holiday cheer at the annual Three Kings Family Day.

The Christian celebration marks the day the Magi, or Three Kings, came from the East to visit the newborn Jesus.

The holiday, also known as Epiphany, is celebrated 12 days after Christmas, or Jan. 6.

Although the festivity is widely recognized, it is mostly celebrated by the Hispanic community.

Reynaldo Rivera and Diana Garcia clapped along to the native music by Los Arpegios in the gallery pavilion. To Rivera, it was a reminder of his home in Puerto Rico.

"I try to participate in anything Hispanic," he said through translation.

"In three years, this is the first that we've heard of an activity for the Three Kings."

Because Rivera speaks no English, he said he welcomes activities like this, as they offer a chance to interact with other Spanish-speaking people.

Debora McDell, coordinator of community programs and outreach, said the event was expected to draw upward of 800 people.

The Three Kings, believed to be named Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, brought gifts of gold, frankincense, an aromatic gum resin used in incense and perfumes, and myrrh, an aromatic plant resin.

Although the story of the Three Kings is unknown to many, sisters Doralie and Julissa Figueroa were well-versed on the history.

"It's a tradition," said 9-year-old Doralie.

Doralie decorated a sash to match her crown, such as the ones worn by the Three Kings.

Carmelo Ortiz said that the arts and crafts help bring an understanding about the holiday to children of all ethnic backgrounds.

"It's a way to let the children express themselves, but we try to keep the theme according to the Three Kings," Ortiz said.

For some, the holiday is an addition to other celebrations. Linda Mazzeo said that both Christmas and the Three Kings Day are celebrated in her Webster home. Nine-year-old Michael Mazzeo, Linda's son, was preparing for a performance of A Modern Day Tale of the Three Kings.

The show about the story of the Three Kings was directed by Annette Ramos, Rochester School District artist-in-residence.

"We think it's very important for him to understand both sides of our culture," Mazzeo said. "To him, it's very normal. It's just part of how he was brought up."

Public Officials Imitate The Magi's Generosity

More than 600 gifts distributed to kids in Hispanic tradition

January 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004
The Journal News. All rights reserved.

Although discarded Christmas trees appeared on sidewalks last week, more than 1,000 worshippers crammed into St. Bernard's Church yesterday to celebrate the Epiphany, a Christmas observance commemorating the three wise men's arrival in Bethlehem to venerate the baby Jesus.

Dressed in flowing satin robes, fancy headdresses and fake beards, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, White Plains Mayor Joseph Delfino and former state Supreme Court Justice Donald Silverman portrayed the Magi and distributed more than 600 gifts to children after the church's standing-room-only, Spanish-language Mass.

The officials re-created a Latin American tradition by giving out stuffed animals, toy vehicles and games. The donated gifts represented the gold, frankincense and myrrh that some Christians believe were given to baby Jesus by the three wise men who followed the star of Bethlehem to the manger.

The gift-giving impressed Flora Lopez, 41, of White Plains.

"We don't have such a big celebration in Peru," said Lopez, a house cleaner whose family got four presents. "This is a different experience for us."

While Hispanic celebrations of the Epiphany - which actually occurs tomorrow - involve processions featuring the three Magi, not every Latin American country celebrates the day the same way. Lopez said that in her country gifts are given on Christmas Eve, while in Puerto Rico children traditionally get their gifts on Jan. 6.

Economic circumstances also determine how elaborate a community's festivities can be.

"In our country we don't have the same financial ability to give out presents. They do it in the big cities, but in the provinces it's very rare to see this gift-giving," said Mario Villamares, 52, of White Plains, a Mexico City native who took three gifts home to his grandchildren.

Villamares, who works in construction, said modest gifts such as candies are more typical of the gifts given to children on the Epiphany in Mexico. Most of the gifts distributed yesterday were donated by the county's Youth Bureau, the White Plains mayor's Youth Council, 100 Hispanic Women of Westchester and three White Plains High School groups.

Many Christians believe the Epiphany celebrations involving the three Magi are rooted in the Bible. Yesterday, Catholic congregations throughout the world read passages from the Old Testament's Book of Isaiah prophesying that kings of different lands would praise the Messiah by bearing gifts of gold and incense. That reading was followed by an excerpt from the Gospel of St. Matthew describing the Magi's search for the baby Jesus.

Spano and Delfino participated in St. Bernard's Epiphany observance to commemorate the 30th anniversary of El Centro Hispano, a Hispanic social service agency that operates out of St. Bernard's former parish hall. Yesterday was the first time Spano had dressed up as a Magus.

"You got to have at least one wise man," joked Spano, ribbing his two companions.

Hispanics make up 23.5 percent of the city's population, according to the 2000 census, which counted 12,476 Hispanic residents. El Centro Hispano served about 10,000 clients in 2002, and Executive Director Isabel Villar estimated that the 2003 tally would reach about 12,000 people served.

"We're going to have to keep growing but not lose our focus on the community," Villar said.

Robin Bikkal, chairwoman of El Centro Hispano's board of directors, praised Villar and Judith Aucar, the agency's assistant director, for their "selfless" efforts.

"Out of 52 weeks in the year, they are out here 26 of them," said Bikkal, who also is head of the Westchester Hispanic Advisory Board, which advises the county executive. "The White Plains Hispanic community is the best-informed community about education, health and government services, and it's because of them."

Three Kings: Community Takes Another Day To Celebrate Season

January 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Stamford Advocate. All rights reserved.

NORWALK -- Each year on the night of Jan. 5, 9-year-old Brianna P-Santiago places a glass of water and, sometimes, a shoe box filled with grass near her bed.

When she wakes up, the grass and water have been replaced with gifts.

The tradition is part of Three Kings Day, celebrated in Latin American and Spanish-speaking countries 12 days after Christmas to mark the day Melchoir, Gaspar and Balthazar visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Jan. 6, not Dec. 25, is the day children typically receive holiday gifts, usually after leaving out food and drink for the wise men's camels.

More than 100 people gathered yesterday in the gymnasium of the Side by Side Community School for a Three Kings Day celebration, which was organized for the seventh year by United Hispanic Action of Norwalk.

The children sat in rows and listened to traditional Hispanic Christmas songs, waiting for the three kings to arrive and pass out gifts donated by the Marine Corps League's Toys for Tots program.

United Hispanic Action President Jose Bermudez said the best part is when the children receive their gifts from the wise men, dressed in bright robes and gold crowns.

"They get so excited," Bermudez said.

Some children wore costumes to play the main characters in the story. Iman Montgomery, 8, and his 4-year-old sister, Erickah, walked hand in hand to the front of the gymnasium dressed as Joseph and Mary. Erickah carried a doll wrapped in blankets to represent the baby Jesus.

Their mother, Liza Montgomery, who teaches a bilingual class at Brookside Elementary School, said Hispanic families often change their holiday traditions after they settle in the United States.

"Being born here, we've kind of changed it," Montgomery said. "In Puerto Rico, they don't do the 25th. Now that we're here, we do both."

Traditions vary by country. In Mexico, children write letters to the three kings, which they tuck in one of their shoes. In the morning, the letter has been replaced by a present.

In Spain, lunch on Three Kings Day usually includes a piece of "torta de reyes," a sweet fruit bread in which a bean and a tiny porcelain figurine are hidden. The person who gets the piece with the bean must buy next year's cake and whoever finds the figurine has to act out a dare.

Some Puerto Rican holiday meals include a roast pig and a dish of pigeon peas and rice.

Annie Suarez, whose parents moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland United States when she was a baby, said she is glad that families continue the tradition in their adopted country.

"It would get lost if we didn't celebrate it with our kids," Suarez said.

Bearing Gifts, Volunteers Bring 3 Kings Day To Engelwood Center

By Melissa Harris | Sentinel Staff Writer

January 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

Tonight, Mayra Rivera will help her 3-year-old triplets yank up patches of grass, lay them in shoeboxes and slide them under their beds.

During the night, camels carrying the three wise men will pass by the Rivera home, eating the grass along their long journey to visit the baby Jesus.

As thanks, the kings will leave behind gifts for Solimar, Nikole and Emmanuelle Rivera.

The holiday, called Three Kings Day, is celebrated Tuesday among Hispanic cultures with as much zeal as Christmas.

But on Sunday afternoon, the kings made an early stop at the Engelwood Neighborhood Center, where they delivered more than 1,000 toys to more than 500 needy children.

"It's like Santa Claus coming to your house," said Karla Rivera, the triplets' cousin. "It's the most important event of the Christmas season."

The Central Florida chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association hosts the event every year to help families pass the tradition down to their children.

In Puerto Rico, communities host festivals and organize parades in honor of the day, the 12th and final day of the Christmas celebration.

The Bible says that wise men, who may or may not have been kings, saw a bright star on the night Jesus Christ was born, followed it to Bethlehem and found the infant Jesus there. Tradition gives their names as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, although the Bible doesn't even say there were three. They presented Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The event also is known as the Feast of Epiphany or the Adoration of the Magi.

On Sunday, the children gathered around the stage to hear the story. The "kings" then walked in wearing bright robes, bejeweled turbans and thick beards.

The children ran up to touch them or stretch their necks up for a kiss on the cheek.

The kings brought Amarelys Velez, 2, a Barbie doll, two stuffed animals and a baby doll.

At the sight of the small stuffed lion, Amarelys broke into a smile.

Her family leaves its Christmas decorations up until the end of January because of the holiday.

"This is her first Three Kings Day because until now she was too small to understand," said her mom, Lydia Martinez, 23, of Orlando.

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