On January 6, 2022 The Puerto Rican Cultural Center celebrated the 27th year of the Día de los Reyes gift giving event. For more than two decades The Puerto Rican Cultural Center has celebrated an annual parade on Paseo Boricua led by the Three Kings, and has given thousands of gifts to children in the community to celebrate this iconic holiday. Three Kings Day is a momentous date in the Puerto Rican calendar; it is for that reason that the cultural center works so hard to keep this celebration alive in the hearts and minds of our youth. The first time The Puerto Rican Cultural Center celebrated Día de los Reyes on Division street was in 1995. Not many people know this was the same day the beloved Flags of Steel that now mark Paseo Boricua were erected. Día de los Reyes has been a historic day for Puerto Ricans on the island and in our community of Humboldt Park for generations. Unfortunately, for the past few years the COVID-19 pandemic has affected how we celebrate our beloved holiday by adding mask mandates, social distancing, and skipping the parade. Regardless, we have not once canceled this celebration. It has always been our work to honor our heritage in the face of any challenge. The following article is a poignant account of the event as witnessed by a reporter from the Chicago Sun Times.
Holiday for Día de los Reyes honors spirit of giving
Families gathered in Humboldt Park on Thursday to celebrate Three Kings Day, a popular Latin American holiday.
By Cheyanne M. Daniels (SUNTIMES)
The parking lot of the ¡WEPA! Mercado Del Pueblo market was filled with children laughing and drinking hot cocoa as members of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center handed out gifts Thursday.
Even though Christmas has come and gone, children like 10-year-old Yisel Moondragon and her mom, Lupe Cabanas, are wrapping up their holiday season with Día de los Reyes.
A popular holiday in Latin America, Día de los Reyes, or Three Kings Day, commemorates the biblical story of the three wise men’s journey to honor baby Jesus with gifts. Traditions for the holiday include a special holiday cake with a baby Jesus figurine in the center and, of course, presents.
“I remember when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for January the sixth to get gifts,” said Caesar Zepeda, a member of the Latin American Motorcycle Association, one of the sponsors for the day’s event along with the cultural center and West Town Bikes. Zepeda was dressed as one of the three kings.
Jose Lopez, executive director for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, said Jan. 6 is “probably the most important date in the Puerto Rican ritual calendar.”
“The three kings represent, in the Puerto Rican imaginary, something very, very unique,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, they are called Santo Reyes Magos, meaning they are saints. And in Puerto Rico, there’s a whole tradition of making promises to them. They become very, very important in terms of the spiritual elements of Puerto Rico.”