ROCHESTER— Families poured into the Gingerbread House at ROC Holiday Village Dec. 17 in anticipation of the arrival of the Three Kings.
Every year, members of the Hispanic community gather to celebrate “El Dia De Los Reyes,” or Three Kings Day. The feast day, also known as the Epiphany, takes place each year on Jan. 6 and commemorates the three Wise Men’s visit to the newborn baby Jesus.
This year, the Puerto Rican Festival of Rochester gave residents the opportunity to celebrate the feast day early by hosting a special Three Kings Day celebration downtown during the ROC Holiday Village winter festival. The Three Kings event featured crafts, hot chocolate and cookies as well as live music.
While families waited for the Wise Men to arrive, children were encouraged to decorate small white boxes filled with strips of shredded green paper meant to symbolize grass.
Much like the American tradition of leaving out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, Latino children each leave out a box filled with grass or hay in addition to water for the Wise Men’s camels on the evening of Jan. 5.
The next morning, children awaken to find the Wise Men have left them gifts by their bedsides to show gratitude for having fed the camels.
Yazmin Padilla brought her three children to celebrate Three Kings Day at the ROC Holiday Village to maintain the tradition from her native Puerto Rico.
According to Padilla, all three of her children participate in the celebrating Three Kings Day — even her eldest son, Zaymi Morales, who is 22 — and it helps to keep the tradition alive for her youngest daughter, Zyara Morales.
The culture locally is different from Puerto Rico, Padilla said, explaining that she has noticed that after Christmas Day, trees are taken down and the holiday season seems to end, whereas in Puerto Rico the holiday season is celebrated until Three Kings Day.
In fact, according to the Discover Puerto Rico website, the island has the longest holiday season in the world. The season, better known as La Navidad, lasts around 45 days, starting the day after Thanksgiving, extending through mid-January and culminating with the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, also known as la SanSe.
Padilla, who relocated to Rochester with her family in June 2018 from Cabo Rojo as a result of the damaging effects of Hurricane Maria, said she values the opportunity to maintain cultural traditions. The boxes decorated during the Three Kings Day event will be the same ones the family uses to celebrate the 2021 holiday season, she added.
In keeping the tradition alive, Padilla’s children will fill their boxes with “grama, pasto or whatever we find,” she laughed, recalling how their boxes from 2018 were filled with cat grass from the pet store because the ground was covered in snow.
Once the Three Kings arrived at ROC Holiday Village, they sat for pictures with those in attendance. At the end of the celebration, they marched in the holiday village’s parade.