El Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Day), one of the special days many Latin American families enjoy, celebrates the day the three wise men visited baby Jesus’s nativity. It’s a day of heritage and traditions, gifts and delicacies. At Centro Hispano of Dane County, its been a tradition for decades and decades.
“January is my favorite month at Centro. Our annual Three Kings Celebration honors community and is a celebration of the hopes and dreams of the Three Kings and our families. It’s a celebration that honors our youngest, most powerful leaders — our children,” Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano, tells Madison365. “It is also the month when we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King whose legacy is crucial for our vision at Centro as a social justice organization.
“This will also be the last time we will celebrate at our current location at 810 W. Badger Rd. and that just makes it even more meaningful and poignant,” she adds. “We hope to see everyone on Saturday (for toys) and Sunday (for bikes and books) at Centro, to share stories and space together.”
Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar, the Tres Reyes, will visit Centro, 810 West Badger Road, with toys on Saturday, Jan. 21, 10 a.m.-noon.
“What I really love about this event is having the families back at Centro again,” Karime Perez, partnership and engagement specialist for Centro Hispano, tells Madison365. “This is a true community event and everybody gets involved. So we have all this staff that is working together with the agency partners, with the board of directors, but also with members of the community to pull this wonderful event together.
“Everything is about making community and I think that is one of the things that make this event very special,” Perez adds. “We have so many people working together at this event to make it so enjoyable for the children and their families.”
The Tres Reyes Celebration is a long-standing tradition at Centro, a signature event that brings hundreds and hundreds of children and their families together on Madison’s south side for a community celebration that includes face painting, traditional snacks, hot chocolate, professional photos with the Tres Reyes and more.
“We have about 1,300 gifts to give away on Saturday and that is the most we’ve ever had,” Jamie Quam, development director at Centro Hispano of Dane County, tells Madison365. “I’m certainly excited to have the community involved again. After an Evening of Dreaming [a large end-of-the-year Centro Hispano fundraiser], I think this is our first big event since then. It’s always great to have the community involved.
“I really think it’s special that all of the individuals and organizations did toy drives to get presents for this event,” she adds. “That’s another area of the community that I really appreciate. We had Toys for Tots, United Way, Quarles and Brady, Kennedy Communications, and Willy Street Co-op.”
This year, Centro is celebrating 40 years of supporting the Latinx community in Dane County. The organization, founded in 1983, offers free bilingual youth programs, workforce development, family wrap-around support, and community engagement strategies. Centro sees more than 6,000 individuals, fields more than 10,000 calls, and offers more than 20,000 hours of programming a year, according to its website.
“We never know how many lives we are impacting at this event with the toys that we give away to kids and their families,” Perez says. “Also important is that people who are new to this area or new to this country who come to this event will get a chance to see all of the resources that we offer here at Centro. They come here and they receive a toy and that really makes my heart feel warm, but at the same time, they also are making friends and getting information and learning about resources that they can use in their lives.”
Last year’s Tres Reyes celebration at Centro was more of a quick walk-through event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year there will be more of an in-house celebration.
“The plaza area will be open to just hang out with rosca [de reyes] and hot chocolate and popcorn and we’ll have face painting and pictures with Tres Reyes.” Quam says.
There will also be music, singing, dancing, and socializing.
“We have a Zumba group that meets here at Centro that has been with us for 7 or 8 years and they are committed to improving people’s health and they will be preparing and serving hot chocolate for the event and inviting other members of the community to come and support them,” Perez says.
The Tres Reyes Celebration will have resource tables and information available about all of the programs and resources Centro offers. Something new this year for Tres Reyes celebration is that they will be providing gifts for older children, youths ages 12-16.
“Our gifts are usually tailored for the smaller kids, so this year we’ll have stuff the older kids can enjoy like headphones and electronics,” Quam says. “I think that people forget that young people when they’re 12 to 16, they’re still kids. They still enjoy and they still appreciate all of those things. They obviously aren’t looking for the toys like the dolls and trucks and everything else. So it’s good to have things that fit their age group.”
Quam, who has been heavily involved in Campaign CENTRO, a $20 million campaign to build a brand-new home for Centro Hispano, says that she is excited that Centro will be able to give children a record amount of toys this year –1,300.
“When you’re doing a capital campaign it’s always interesting that it has reverberating effects in the community where it raises your profile, increases name recognition, which then leads to more people looking to you for programming and support, which is awesome, because that means we’re able to reach even more people,” Quam says.
According to a press release from Centro, the Tres Reyes celebration is an event that “unifies generations, fosters bonds within families, and brings back fond memories for children and parents alike. “
“As a mother now in my life, I think it’s even more important that we are preserving the traditions like Tres Reyes,” Perez says. “We’re moving to another country and we are bringing these traditions and sometimes blending the traditions because Latinos … we are so different in many ways. But coming here and having the same tradition and celebrating together, I think it unifies families.”