KISSIMMEE, Fla. – When many people think of the holiday season, they think of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But millions of Christians also celebrate another holiday that extends past the new year. It’s known as the Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day -- celebrated among Roman Catholics in Latin America and Spain.
“The Magi brought gifts. The Magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus,” said Ilenia Colón Mendoza, a UCF associate professor of art history. “The gold was because he was a king, the frankincense had to do with his divine nature and then the myrrh was sort of -- in art history, we call if a prefiguration, you use myrrh to actually embalm bodies, so it was sort of predicting that he would die on the cross.”
The gifts came from Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar on Jan. 6 -- the day that marks the biblical adoration of baby Jesus. They’re also known as the three wise men who traveled by horse, camel and elephant to visit baby Jesus after his birth.
“In Puerto Rico, it’s a tradition that we get from Spain,” Colón Mendoza said. The Puerto Rican native left her homeland when she was 18. She said bringing those traditions of the Three Kings Day to the mainland keeps her connected to her beloved island.
“On Jan. 5 we would go hunting for grass and it was very exciting,” she said about picking grass and placing it in a shoebox along with water -- a similar gesture to leaving cookies and milk out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. “Then in the morning, we would get a little present from the three kings.”
But Colón Mendoza isn’t just an art historian at UCF, she’s also a mom who continues those childhood traditions with her son.
“To me, the Three Kings hold me close to Puerto Rico and to my Puerto Rican culture, and my son is half Puerto Rican and I don’t want him to lose those aspects of culture,” she said. “For my child, it’s not the extra gifts so much that are important, it’s having another tradition that sort of connects him to his culture.”
The tradition is recognized by leaders in Kissimmee, where more than half of the population is Hispanic.
“Our Hispanic community here continues to grow and we need to maintain those traditions alive; especially for our kids to pass that on to their generations, right? From generation to generation,” said Melissa Zayas-Moreno, the 2022 chairperson of the Hispanic Business Council for Kissimmee Osceola County Chamber of Commerce.
The Kissimmee Osceola County Chamber of Commerce welcomed their 2022 event, scheduled for Jan. 9 in Old Town -- a celebration of the three wise men now in its 17th year.
“This is something that we grew up with, with our families and moving from our countries here to Central Florida, especially here to Osceola County, and continuing those same traditions -- it’s magical,” Zayas-Moreno said.