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Old Tradition Could Boost Latino Community's Economy

Bring back Los Reyes Magos!

By Andy Porras
Published on LatinoLA: December 2, 2009


Old Tradition Could Boost Latino Community's Economy


If America's millions of Latinos remained true to their culture this Christmas, they could save millions.

All they have to do is say no to gift-giving on December 25 and yes to gifting on January 6, el dia de los Santos Reyes or, Three Kings Day, the official Hispanic day to share gifts.

Do the math; the Magi come 12 days after Christmas, or in wallet-speak, ten days after the day-after-Christmas-sales ... ca-ching!

Throughout the Spanish-speaking world, January 6 is a Christian holiday that celebrates the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to the Christ child.

So, Hispanics wishing to stay true to their old world customs can also keep more money in their pockets by doing the religious thing.

"But I guess when we crossed into los estados unidos - the United States, we forgot all about our holidays, not to mention our manners!" said 75 year-old Ernesto Beltran, who came here as a young bracero back in the 50s. "I remember the original Twelve Days of Christmas which begins with Christmas, not ends with it."

In some regions of Mexico, it is traditional for children to leave their shoes out on the evening of January 5, sometimes filling them with hay for the camels, so that the Magi will be generous with their gifts. In Puerto Rico, it is traditional for children to fill a box with grass or hay and put it underneath their bed, for the same reasons. This is analogous to anglo children leaving cookies out for Santa Claus.

Beltran's grandchildren learned about their elders' traditions last year.

"No, not from me, but from American television!" said a proud but confused Beltran. "I pick up the little ones from school and their teacher told us about a bilingual TV character named Dora (the Explorer) and a special program on the Reyes Magos."

The Dora the Explorer special followed a story in the Bible about three kings or the magi, following a bright star in the sky on the night Jesus Christ was born. They followed it to Bethlehem where they presented the newborn with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Chances are preschoolers have at the very least a rudimentary knowledge of all the major holidays such as Christmas and Easter or even the Fourth of July. But how much do they know about the traditions of various cultures -- their own or those that belong to others?

"Three Kings Day is a big holiday in Latin America and Mexico,"said Beltran. "Here, sadly, it has been overwhelmed by Christmas and all the commercial aspects of it."

It was during the last part of the 19th century that the American Southwest begin to abandon the three kings and wait for Santa, a dozen days earlier. In New Mexico, for example, where Hispanic families have lived for more than 400 years, the children turned to a grand fatherly figure to wish for their favorite toys.

"I remember my older brother, Manuel, who lived in Colorado," said Beltran. "He would tell me his grandchildren told him he was crazy for suggesting that they put their shoes by the door in hopes of them being filled with gifts on the 6th of January."

Along the East Coast, many Puerto Rican families claim a new resurgence of the old custom. In Sacramento, a former Mexican dance instructor turned restauranteur stages a Three Kings Celebration for underprivileged children.

In Texas, however, along the Mexican border few families have kept the old tradition alive. A quick drive into any of the Mexican cities that dot the border will reveal as many outdoor Santas or snowmen suspended in huge plastic bubbles as any Texas suburb.

"About the only custom left from the Reyes Magos traditional celebration is the Rosca de Reyes (a ring-shaped sweet bread with a tiny doll representing Baby Jesus baked inside)," said Beltran. "Today's Latinos don't know what they're missing!"

Not to mention how much they could be saving.

About Andy Porras:
Porras is a freelance writer from Sacramento living temporarily in Houston, TX. He is a syndicated columnist.
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