Sunday was Three Kings Day or “Dia de los Reyes” with thousands of Latino New Yorkers participating in El Museo del Barrio’s 36th annual parade. January 6 commemorated the arrival of the three kings who visited baby Jesus bearing gifts. This joyous time, an actual Christian religious holiday known as the Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Epiphany, is celebrated all over the world.
However, New York’s El Barrio, a section of East Harlem encompassing 104th-106th streets and Fifth, Park, and Madison avenues, becomes a lively Spanish family reunion for many of New York’s diverse Hispanics. It is their day to remember their home country, songs, and foods and re-enact some of their cultural traditions. The parade featured three kings, a real camel and over 3000 school children dressed up in costumes reflecting the Three Kings story. Many carried banners, displayed artwork and wore paper king crowns.
Mostly, the children think of this time as another day for giving and receiving gifts. There’s plenty music in the air, especially guitar and folk songs. A special bread called “Rosca de Reyes” is baked with a tiny toy baby Jesus figurine hidden inside. In Mexico, whoever finds the hidden toy baby Jesus must make tamales for everyone on the Day of Candles held February 2. Many Latin cultures bake this bread in the shape of a circle to symbolize a king’s crown.
Children leave their shoes outside their door and under their beds so the three kings can put toys and gifts inside. Many families leave a box or hay or grass and water for the three king’s camels similar to leaving cookies out for Santa Claus. In Puerto Rico, there is a tradition of serenading under neighbors’ windows; they are invited in for coquito, a special eggnog drink. They continue on to each neighbor’s home singing and drinking until everyone is outside celebrating.
According the US Census, New York-Northern New Jersey is home to the nation’s second largest Hispanic populations at 4 million with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Mexicans being the biggest. (Los Angeles has the largest, the majority being Mexicans.) Over 72 percent of NY area Hispanics are citizens. There is only 4 percent unemployment in the Hispanic population, according to recent US Labor statistics. Increasing numbers of South Americans and Central Americans are making their home in the New York area. El Museo del Barrio, simply known as El Museo, located in East Harlem, is New York’s leading Latino cultural institution.