For anyone who thought Christmas festivities were over for the season, the lively crowd at the Three Kings Day celebration at D’Youville College on Saturday had a different idea.
Hundreds of people turned out for an event marking the Biblical story of the wise men arriving in Bethlehem to present gifts to the baby Jesus. The holiday, which is officially today on the calendar, is widely celebrated in the Hispanic community.
“It’s celebrated in almost all Latin American countries and the Caribbean,” said Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera. “For many people, Christmas ended on the 25th [of December]. For us, it began on the 25th and ends on the 6th [of January].”
The atmosphere was festive at Saturday’s event, with music played by a deejay filling the air, and families chatting as they gathered around tables eating snacks.
Men dressed as the three kings strolled through the room, handing out candy from their baskets. A free raffle distributed prizes including bikes, microwave ovens and toys. And all of the kids who attended went home with gifts.
Back in November, organizers reached out to families in need through two community centers, inviting them to be part of the Three Kings Day celebration, said Wilmer Olivencia Jr., the event’s chairman. More than 120 families, including nearly 300 children, signed up to participate, he said.
The holiday is meaningful to Olivencia.
“Three Kings to the Puerto Rican community is Christmas, basically,” he said. “This is when we celebrate our Christmas.”
Miriam Santiago came to the event hoping to win a television for her granddaughter, Adriana. Her raffle ticket, No. 67, turned out to be a lucky number, winning her a 19-inch Vizio TV. She clutched her prize in happy disbelief after returning to her seat.
“This is just an amazing event,” Santiago said. “Altogether it’s a blessing, and I’m glad they’ve kept it going for so long.”
Saturday’s celebration was presented by the Augustine “Pucho” Olivencia Center and the Western New York Hispanics and Friends Civic Association, in collaboration with the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY, and the Western New York Holiday Partnership.
Olivencia said the event was supported by a range of sponsors, including businesses, elected officials and even regular people who had received gifts at the celebration when they were young and wanted to return the favor through donations.
Olivencia said he hoped celebrants connected with the event’s purpose. “They walk away and they say, ‘You know what, we got to get in touch with our roots, per se. We may not be in Puerto Rico with our loved ones there, but we’re going to keep the tradition alive here in Buffalo and Western New York.’”