Hispanics embrace Three Kings tradition

Three Kings Day helps Hispanic people retain their heritage, one Youngstown man said.

By Ed Runyan

YOUNGSTOWN — On Wednesday, Wil Suarez and his wife, Griselle, of Youngstown will be among the many Hispanic people across the world who will observe the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the day the three kings from the Bible went to Bethlehem to give gifts to the baby Jesus.

Spanish people take the feast a step further than most other Christians, Griselle explained Sunday at the Three Kings Celebration at the Organization Civica y Cultural Hispanica Americana Hall on Shirley Road.

“When I was growing up, Christmas was just another day,” she said. “Three Kings was more of a special day. That’s when we got our gifts. My parents didn’t teach me about Santa Claus. They kept it biblical. It was more of a tradition that connected us with Jesus,” she said.

In some ways, Three Kings Day gives Spanish children an extra day to celebrate Christ’s birth and to receive gifts, Griselle said. Her children receive presents on Christmas and on Three Kings Day, she said.

In Spanish culture, the Epiphany is celebrated by putting straw or grass and water under a child’s bed for the kings’ camels, Griselle said. The kings then leave presents under the bed, much like Santa Claus leaves presents under the tree.

In the Bible, Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar followed a bright star to Bethlehem and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Epiphany is called “Twelfth Night” in England and is looked upon as the last opportunity to make merry before a return to the usual toil of the workaday world, according to the www.chiff.com, Web site.

In Germany, children go from house to house on Epiphany eve, singing carols and chalking the year and initials KMB (for the names of the kings) near the entrance of each home, the Web site says.

Several countries, including Italy and Russia, share the tradition of La Befana (in Russia, Baboushka), the kindly old witch who makes her annual visit bringing presents by climbing down the chimney on the night of Jan. 5, the site says.

Griselle said she and Wil were both born in Youngstown, but their parents were born in Puerto Rico.

Mary Isa Garayua, executive director of OCCHA, said Three Kings is typically only celebrated in the larger cities in the United States. Youngstown has a large population of Spanish people from Puerto Rico and Mexico, said Garayua, who was born in Puerto Rico. Some local Hispanic people here also have roots in other countries, she noted.

This year, OCCHA had its Three Kings Celebration on Sunday to draw a larger audience than would be possible Wednesday, she said.

The hundred or more people who attended Sunday’s celebration, a majority of them children, witnessed the arrival of the three kings, all dressed in proper kingly attire. The kings took a seat in the front of the hall and gave out candy to each child. Each child also received a toy.

In Puerto Rico and some other places, the people have a parade on Three Kings Day, Garayua said.

Another Hispanic tradition at Christmas is to have a parranda, which is when a small group of friends gathers together to surprise another friend and sing on his or her doorstep.

It’s a lot like Christmas caroling in that participants sing Christmas songs, but a parranda usually involves instruments and really upbeat music, Griselle Suarez said.

Sunday’s Three Kings Celebration included singing and music like what is done during a parranda.

The Suarez family participates in a parranda a couple of times every Christmas, Griselle said.

“We try to hold onto heritage as much as possible,” said Wil.


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