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Santa Claus doesn’t hold the cachet in Mexico and many Latin American countries like he does in the United States. Rather, it’s Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar – the Tres Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men) – who come bearing gifts and leaving presents in or near the shoes of small children.

And, once again, children will be waiting in line to sit on the laps and get a regalo from Centro Hispano’s Tres Reyes Magos as they host their annual Día De Los Tres Reyes celebration on Friday, Jan. 12, 4-6 p.m. at Centro Hispano on Madison’s south side.

“For families we serve, the Tres Reyes Magos event means a lot,” Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller tells Madison365. “Many kids in the community look forward to celebrating Reyes Magos even more than Santa. It’s a very strong tradition for the Latino community here.”

El Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos at Centro Hispano

Menendez Coller, who was born in El Salvador and raised in Los Angeles, says that she has really grown to appreciate the Tres Reyes celebration even more while living in the Midwest. “In California, I used to look forward to eating roscas, but here it is so much more than that – it’s a complete family celebration and probably my favorite event we hold at Centro,” Menendez Coller says. “I really didn’t grow up celebrating the day as much in El Salvador … it’s neat that my daughter gets to learn so much more about the day.”

According to Latino tradition, children receive presents on Jan. 6, “el día de Reyes,” the Day of the Kings, or the Wise Men. It is the Magi who brought the presents to the Baby Jesus, and tradition has it that they bring toys to the boys and girls who have been good. Centro Hispano traditionally hosts its Tres Reyes Magos celebration on the Friday closest to Jan. 6.

“At this annual event, I really enjoy just being in community, stepping back, and enjoying ourselves with the families we see day in and day out,” Menendez Coller says. “One of the traditions we’ve started these past few years is that staff truly take over the planning for the event – which includes recruiting the Three Kings, making the chocolate, buying the treats, overseeing volunteers to wrap toys, and more. I think this really makes this a complete community event. We have a ton of fun.”

Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller

This traditional “3 Kings’ Day” celebration is a community favorite. Hundreds of children come with their families to Centro to receive gifts. Centro holds a raffle and provides traditional pastries and hot chocolate to the attendees.

Lauren Deakman, director of Centro Youth Programs, loves seeing Centro Hispano so full of families and their kids. “I love seeing kids beam when they get a present. I love seeing everyone get so excited when the kings come out,” Deakman tells Madison365. “Centro is often a place where people come when they have worries, frustrations and true emergencies. Tres Reyes is the one night a year when everyone who comes gets to leave those things aside and just be with their community. It’s the one night a year where everyone leaves with smiles.”

Cassandra Lee Limas gets presents ready for last year’s Tres Reyes Magos celebration at Centro.

For Cassandra Lee Limas, a receptionist and administrative assistant at Centro Hispano, the Tres Reyes event means culture, tradition, and family.

“I think this event means a lot because not only people come here for the gifts, but also we are doing our best in bringing people’s culture all the way here from home,” Limas tells Madison365. “I love the rosca, the hot chocolate, and seeing a huge, happy smile on the children’s faces.”

This event has been one of Centro’s great, long-standing fun community events. But is the annual Tres Reyes Magos an event for the whole community?

“Oh, yes, definitely. Like any of our other events, or events that involve the Latino community in Madison, I would love to consistently see a lot of diversity,” Menendez Coller says. “I think when this starts to happen more organically, it will be a sign of progress in bridging the gap in inquiries in this city.”

Menendez Coller says that, overall, Centro is doing very well and the staff is very excited having recently hired Evelyn Cruz to be the operations director at the end of last year.

“I’m proud to have her on board. She’s been helping so much in formalizing the systems and structures at Centro,” Menendez Coller says.

Centro Hispano’s annual Tres Reyes Magos celebration

Centro is also in the middle of strategic planning for the future right now. “We will be turning 40 in six years and we feel very strong as an organization,” Menendez Coller says. “It’s important that we keep growing Centro because a strong Centro means consistent strong support for the Latino community, no matter what.”

On a personal level, Menendez Coller says that she’s excited (and a little nervous) about hosting the annual Dr. Martin Lurther King Jr. City-County Celebration on Madison, Jan. 15 at the Overture Center. “MLK Day is a day I have looked forward to every year here in Madison,” she says.

MLK weekend kicks off with the MLK Free Community Dinner downtown at Gordon Commons on Friday, Aug. 12. Community members are encouraged to stop at Centro Hispano for Tres Reyes Magos on the way down to that event.

“Three Kings’ Day means for me a day of celebration for our community and Centro staff to gather beyond of the services we offer to share time and celebrate together our customs and traditions,” says Tania Rivera, Career Pathways Specialist for the Caminos Finance Program for Centro. “Seeing our community members spending time together at Centro and connecting while their kids receive gifts, share a hot drink and take a picture alongside the Tres Reyes makes me feel happy, satisfied and proud of what Centro and staff accomplish each year.”

For more information about El Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos, click here. Centro is still seeking donations of toys and gift cards for this event. If interested, please contact bianca@micentro.org.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.

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