Growing up as a child in my native Cuba, no day in the entire calendar was more special. Nothing came near. Even my birthday couldn’t compare to the day the Three Kings left gifts under my bed every year.
Santa Claus did not come to my house. Like most other children in Latin America and Spain, I grew up receiving gifts for the night not from Santa on Christmas Day, but from the same Three Kings who visited Baby Jesus. in a manger in Bethlehem. And that was January 6, according to the Bible, the 12th day of Christmas – the day Christians celebrate the feast of Epiphany.
So, to many Hispanic Americans, they are much more than figurines in Nativity scenes under our Christmas trees. They are Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar, those three magical characters who rode camels and left us toys every year when we were children.
And yet, tragically, because of last year’s insurgency on the United States Capitol, because an American president tried to overturn the results of a free and fair election, January 6 has become a day. who will live in infamy.
For those of us who cherish the Day of the Three Kings, watching these madcap mad on television last year has been traumatic. We had yet more reason to consider it one of the most shameful days in American history. They desecrated our vacation!
Even until last year, having passed this tradition on to my daughter, this was the day gifts were exchanged in my family. For the first 70 years of my life, January 6 had been a cherished family holiday.
And so it is for millions of Hispanics around the world. For us, you just had to say “El Seis de Enero” (January 6), and we knew exactly what you meant. “El Día de los Reyes Magos.” And there was a good chance you would make us smile too, conjuring up wonderful memories!
But in the news these days, even on Spanish-speaking stations, when they say “January 6,” instead of pictures of children rejoicing as they plan to receive the Three Kings, they show us footage of hundreds of violent savages – traitors pretending to be patriots – attacking the United States Capitol. Instead of a manger and the Baby Jesus, and the peace he brings to our souls, they show us violent efforts to disrupt the peace guaranteed by our democracy. The news media have made January 6 synonymous with insurgency!
Bottom line: If you think the events of January 6 were treacherous, disgusting, anti-American, and just plain disgusting, imagine how you would feel if it had always been your biggest day of the year!
Is it not surprising that a beautiful Christian holiday has been desecrated by people claiming to be Christians? And if you’re still trying to justify the assault on the US Capitol, what’s wrong with you?
A bit of background: In the Hispanic community of the United States, where the marketing of Santa Claus is overwhelming, for many years people have been fighting an uphill battle to keep the Three Kings tradition alive. Even in Latin America, influenced by the American media, the popularity of Santa Claus has increased dramatically over the past few decades, and many Hispanics fear that old Saint Nicholas will replace the Three Kings and the Christmas story that has a biblical foundation.
Nonetheless, for many Hispanic immigrants, including myself, Santa Claus is an American tradition that we respect and embrace. But Los Reyes Magos are a Hispanic tradition that we must preserve and pass on to their children! Just as we teach our children that there is a Santa Claus who can fly on a sleigh, we can certainly explain – as our parents did with us – that the delivery of toys around the world can also be done by three kings on camels.
In fact, this is how many Hispanic American parents were able to instill ethnic pride in their children at a very young age. Having their own Hispanic vacation inspires kids to learn about the culture and observe the traditions of their ancestors.
Of course, Santa is welcome in our homes as well, but not at the expense of our precious vacation for Hispanic children! So far, we have refused to let it fade into oblivion. Instead of allowing Santa to give away all the presents, we just ask him to save some for “Los Tres Reyes Magos”.
To save our Three Kings tradition, for many years Hispanics across the country have held community events – religious processions, nursery reenactments, toy drives, music and dance performances, theater for children and even parades featuring the Three Kings on camels. In the past, when people referred to a “January 6 committee” it was usually a group of members of the local community planning one of these events. Now, “the January 6 Committee” has a totally different connotation. It used to mean “planning a celebration”. Now that means “to investigate an insurgency”. That’s a shame!
On social media in recent years, huge efforts have been made to revive The Three Kings. Many Hispanics have refused to choose between magical characters that come with gifts. They wrote moving testimonials, recalling some of the best times of their lives, brought to them by both Santa Claus and the Three Kings. It was a ray of hope for those of us who insist on preserving our Feast of the Three Kings.
But what happens now that such a great day has to compete with such a ugly day? If competing with Santa Claus was difficult, how could you compete with an insurgency?
To make matters worse, we now have to deal with Covid-19 forcing us to avoid mass gatherings. Normally, Three Kings Day events would take place in schools, libraries, museums, churches and community centers. But that’s not likely to happen in many places now. Even El Museo del Barrio, host of the great Three Kings Parade through the streets of East Harlem, will celebrate its 45th anniversary.e annual celebration in “virtual” presentations on their YouTube channel. But it must be said that El Museo and other community organizations that still host Covid-safe events deserve kudos for their persistence! See: https://www.elmuseo.org/3K2022/
Anticipating what we might do for Three Kings Day this year and knowing how I feel about this issue, my daughter Lilia, now 28, recently asked me a very direct question: “So what? are you offering me for Uprising Day? “
She was sarcastic, sure, but it was a clear way of telling me that she understood my pain.
I told him that we must keep the faith, that despite the barbaric behavior of those who stormed the US Capitol and the damage they caused to a wonderful vacation, Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar will still come to visit many Hispanic homes, if we think about inviting them!
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