CARY — For area Latinos, the Christian holiday of Epiphany – or the revelation of Christ to the world at large – is a chance to stay in touch with their cultural roots.
It’s a celebration of Three Kings Day or El Dia Del Los Reyes Magos, a holiday bigger than Christmas for most Spanish-speaking countries.
About 400 people, most of them Latino, showed up for the 8th annual Three Kings Day parade and celebration Saturday. It was held at Fred G. Bond Park by the town of Cary and Diamante Inc., a Latino cultural organization.
Lionel Trilla was impressed with the turnout. He and his family relocated to Cary from Puerto Rico about four months ago, and they were looking for a way to get in touch with other Latino families.
“I wasn’t expecting that in North Carolina there were this many Latinos,” Trilla said. “In New York and Florida, yes, but not in North Carolina.”
As Christians head to church services Sunday to honor the day when Jesus was either baptized or first seen by three wise men, Hispanic and Latino children will wake up to find presents.
Traditionally, children place shoeboxes filled with hay or grass under their beds or Christmas tree Jan. 5. If they’ve been good, the same three kings who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus will replace the boxes with gifts.
North Carolina has about 800,000 Latinos, according to the 2010 U.S. census. That’s about 8.4 percent of the state’s population.
“It’s about keeping our roots, our traditions,” Trilla said. “This is something our parents showed us, and our grandparents before them.”
His 2-year-old daughter Rosinel said she had been good and had a gift already on her wish list: a muneca, or doll.
Helping to keep alive the culture and heritage of the Latino community in North Carolina is the reason Diamante started the parade, said board member Roberto Perez of Cary, who is Dominican.
Three Kings Day was one of his favorite days as a child.
“On Christmas we would get small presents, and on Three Kings Day we would get big presents,” said Perez, who grew up in Bronx, N.Y.
In some cases, children didn’t get any presents on Dec. 25 – only on Three Kings Day.
“I remember when I was younger I couldn’t sleep on the fifth,” said Guadalupe Ariza, who is Mexican. “I knew the next day was a big get-together with the family. And my cousins would come over, there would be food and we got to open presents.”
Ariza, who now lives in Chapel Hill, said her family did not have a lot of money, but it didn’t matter.
“The gifts were not big things,” Ariza said. “Sometimes it was a ball or a game. Something simple. But we looked forward to it.”
Ariza was one of about 20 members of Dance Tonnansin, a group from Chapel Hill, who performed a traditional Aztec dance from Mexico at Saturday’s parade.
Nine Spanish-speaking countries – Bolivia, Costa Rica, Columbia, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico and Venezuela – were represented during the parade through dancers in traditional dress, flags and music.
Saturday’s celebration was complete with a visit from the three kings. They brought gifts for about 150 needy children and rosca cake, which hides a plastic baby, for everyone. According to Mexican tradition, the person who finds the baby must host food and drink for Candlemas, on Feb. 2.
When the Association of Puerto Ricans United of North Carolina’s band took to the stage to perform classic Spanish Christmas songs such as “Feliz Navidad” and “Mi Burrito Sabanero,” it was the first time Luis Santiago had ever seen his daughter,12, and son, 10, dance to Spanish music.
“They grew up here and all they want to do is dance hip-hop music,” said Santiago, who was born in Puerto Rico.
But, he’s made sure that his children know about Three Kings Day.
“It’s about tradition,” Santiago said.