El Dia De Reyes remembers the day when the Three Wise Men, following the star to Bethlehem, arrived bearing their treasured gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Baby Jesus.

Every year, Centro Hispano of Dane County honors that tradition by hosting its own “Three Kings Day” where children wait in line to sit on the laps and get a regalo from Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar. This year, it will be held on Friday, Jan. 13, at Centro Hispano’s headquarters on Madison’s south side.

“It’s really fun and the event is a great pick me up with all of this cold weather we have been having,” Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller tells Madison365. “The children have a lot of fun.

Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller
Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller

“It is an important day in our community; it’s even bigger than Christmas,” she adds. “Everybody looks forward to when the three kings arrive and the epiphany. Basically, families come – we usually get around 400 families coming through – and they get a gift from Centro, a book, and an opportunity to take a picture with The Three Kings.”

In many Hispanic countries, ‘El Dia de Reyes'(Three Kings Day) represents the height of the Christmas season and is the day when people exchange gifts, rather than on Dec. 25. According to Latino tradition, 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.

“I have fond members of El Dia De Reyes as a kid,” says Menendez Coller, who grew up in El Salvador and moved to Los Angeles at age 13. “It wasn’t as meaningful in El Salvador as it was in Mexico. And, actually, I feel like it’s even more meaningful here in the United States.”

Centro Hispano staff with The Three Kings at last year's Tres Reyes Magos celebration
Centro Hispano staff with The Three Kings at last year’s Tres Reyes Magos celebration

This year Centro will have rosca de reyes – traditional sweet bread traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany – along with hot chocolate and coffee. “All of this is being prepared by Food Fight Restaurant Group. They have been really supportive of Centro. Their food is really good,too,” Menendez Coller says.

The celebration will also feature giveaways and special prizes. Centro Hispano’s Lourdes Godinez will once again serve as the emcee. There is talk of having karaoke, too, Menendez Coller says. “It’s just a really fun event for the community. We come off the fall where there are so many fundraisers and galas so this is a time to reconnect with the community and talk about why we do what we do and have an event for the community.

“This year with everything going on with the [political] climate, it’s nice to come together,” she adds. We’re going to share resources about spaces of support in case people have any questions with the recent election. We just want everybody to know that we are here for them.”

On top of all of Centro Hispano’s programs and assistance that they provide to Dane County’s Latino community, they have also found themselves, as of late, taking on an important role in informing the public and the community about immigration issues.

“We’re pretty involved with the work that is happening across the city around immigrant rights. There’s the forum that’s happening on Jan. 29 at Monona Terrace. We’ve been connected with that effort and supportive of it,” Menendez Coller says. “With Voces de la Frontera, we’re going to do the march for immigrant rights on Jan. 14. We’re having different meetings with the community and with local churches to make sure that there is a network of support for our families so they feel safe in the city and the county. That’s really been a priority for us lately.”
While Centro’s El Dia De Reyes celebration is a great community event for Madison’s Latino community, Menendez Coller stresses that it is open to everybody in Madison. “People are always asking us, ‘How can we learn more about Centro? What can we do?’ Well, this is a nice event where people are welcome to come and meet our community and find out a little bit about what we do and it’s open to everybody,” she says. “It’s a nice event to start out the year.

“We are still in need of more toys and gifts to hand out to the kids,” she adds. “Toys, clothes for kids, games … and if people are interested in volunteering for the event or gift-wrapping, they can contact us, too. Or just come on out. We’re looking forward to seeing a big crowd. It’s a lot of fun.”

The annual Tres Reyes Magos celebration will be held Jan. 13, 4-7 p.m. at Centro Hispano, 810 W. Badger Rd. All are welcome. If you are interested in volunteering toys or time, e-mail Bianca Rodriguez at bianca@micentro.org