By Andy Porras
No Virginia, Santa Claus is not the lone figure to be celebrated during the holiday season. Long before the jolly, portly old white man dressed to the 9s in red and white emerged, children like you hoped for three wise men to be super- benevolent on a special morning in January. Today a pending fiscal-cliff, slow-to-grow economy and general ill-feeling in America adds up to countless kids and their wishful thinking not being a top priority in our barrios, suburbs and boroughs.
But wait, we still have a chance to score good stuff for the little ones and as an added bonus, teach them a great lesson from our raices-roots.
Some of my fellow senior citizens may recall Abuelita/o telling us their story of El Dia de los Santos Reyes, a.k.a. Jan. 6 , Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, as Christians call it, or simply, Three Kings Day (TKD). A few of you can still hear Mama Grande, or whatever you called your grandma, spinning her tale of the Spanish-speaking world’s ‘víspera de los Reyes’ or the night before TKD. Both grandparents would relate how Los Reyes followed a star in the evening sky, for guidance to Bethlehem, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the infant baby Jesus.
It wasn’t until the last part of the 19th century that the American Southwest begin to abandon TKD and wait for an old , white and bearded dude in a red suit. (For reality purposes, Mr. Claus, as we all know him now, was re-created by Coca Cola back in 1931. Prior to Coke’s PR graphic-arts department makeover of St. Nick, the old man was depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf. Sometimes he was drawn with a bishop’s robe and a Norse huntsman’s animal skin. The figure probably looked more like El Cucuy!)
OK, enough historical data and facts, let’s review: the Magi come 12 days after Christmas, or in “wallet-speak,” ten days after the day-after-Christmas-sales … hello! Thus, Raza wishing to revive this old world custom can also keep more money in their pockets by doing a religious thing. And that’s never a bad thing, you know.
In fact, even here in Califas, some Puerto Rican families claim a new resurgence of the old custom, like in Northern California, where a former folklorico dance instructor turned restauranteur stages a TKD event for underprivileged children and gathers many presents from her fellow merchants and regular customers.
In New Mexico, where Hispanic families have lived for more than 400 years, the children have turned to a grand fatherly figure to wish for their favorite toys and forgetting all about TKD. Along the Texas-Mexico border, however, they have kept the old tradition alive to some degree and they still honor TKD with fiestas and family gatherings.
Of course, in our Motherland, it is still traditional for children to leave their shoes out on the evening of La Vispera, and filling them with hay for the camels, so that the Magi will be generous with their gifts, this act is analogous to anglo children leaving cookies out for Santa Claus.
A few seasons ago, kiddie-TV did a great job of reviving the TKD when it aired a special Dora the Explorer show about Los Reyes Magos. In one hour it did more to promote the Hispanic World holiday than several actual, factual newscasts.
Generally, most of the media’s Christmas reports or articles highlight the commercial aspects of the one day set aside for the birth of Christ. In learning centers, chances are slim that preschoolers receive at the very least a rudimentary knowledge of all the major holidays such as Christmas and Easter or even the Fourth of July. Such wisdom stems from one’s family roots.
Maybe TKD will enjoy a resurgence someday and bask in the attention it deserves. Happily, one custom linking the post-Christmas holiday is still around and shows no sign of slowing down, in fact, it is growing, especially in ever-expanding Hispanic areas. It’s the enjoyment of La Rosca de Reyes sweet treat. The large ring-shape sweet bread often appears in schools, offices and barrio homes thanks to the abundance of panaderias still operated by folks from the old country.
That’s our story, Virginia. Merry Day of the Magi.