As most of us put away our Christmas ornaments and lights, area Hispanics got together this past week to celebrate the Epiphany. Known as Los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings day, the festivity celebrates the Christian biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the visit from the Three Kings, otherwise known as the Wise Men or Magi.
“A few years ago, we at the Hispanic Festival Inc. wanted to do an event that was more about outreach and giving back to our community,” said Elisa Bender, a board member of the festival group.
“We teamed up with one of our partners, El Chico Bakery, and came down for one day where we celebrated the three kings with giving toys to the children in the community, giving away clothing, food. So that is how it started,” Bender explained.
According to the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible, the kings arrived shortly after the birth of Christ bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh. The three gifts represent Jesus’ royal lineage, mortality and divine nature.
About two-thirds of Christianity celebrates Three Kings on the 6th of January, making it the night on which children all over Latin America and Europe receive the joy of gifts.
Christmas, or Noche Buena – “The Good Night” – has long been celebrated amongst Hispanics as a family gathering of cheer and the beginning of the holiday season. In the last 50 years, Hispanics, especially those living in the United States, have included the tradition of Santa Claus. Today, most families celebrate both holidays, with Christmas Day being the main event.
“As a kid we did Christmas and then we would put our shoes out on January 5th. On January 6th we would get a small little toy; of course we always did that so we could get extra toys!” said Ana Rivera, a member of the family that owns El Chico Bakery and a volunteer with Hispanic Festival.
On Sunday the 11th of January, the Hispanic Festival celebrated its own Three Kings Day at El Chico Bakery, 2634 Cherokee Street. The event gave away toys to the youngest and new coats and food for the families.
The event, in its sixth year, has been one of cultural heritage and an opportunity to reinforce and perpetuate Hispanic traditions with Latino children living in the city.
Hispanic Festival programs festivals throughout the year, but the COVID-19 coronavirus forced the organization to cancel their popular events in 2020.
One of the traditional items consumed during this holiday of Three Kings is the rosca, a round fruit cake similar to the Mardi Gras Kings Cake. The symbolism is not lost here: The cake is meant to resemble a king’s crown, and the colorful candied fruit represent gems adorning the crown.
Inside the cake is a baby Jesus figurine. Depending on whom you ask, receiving that charm might give the finder good luck in the new year. For others, the stakes are much higher.
“In my family there are six members, and we pull three figurines from the cakes,” Rivera explained, smiling. “Those that get the babies have to pick a restaurant and buy lunch for the other three family members.”
Other Hispanic events are planned throughout the year, and it is the hope of the organizers to be able to bring joy and fiesta back again in 2021.