A day fit for three kings Celebration: For the parishioners of a small Baltimore church in Canton, Christmas isn't over until the three kings make their appearance.

January 11, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Three kings in flowing capes of green and gold visited a small church in the waterfront community of Canton yesterday, bearing gifts for the youngest members of the congregation.

Cheers and applause marked their arrival at Iglesia Episcopal de Los Tres Santos Reyes (Episcopal Church of the Three Holy Kings). About 60 children, many of them dressed in their Sunday best, sang "Feliz Navidad" as they waited to receive presents.

For the parishioners of this small brick church, Christmas isn't over until the three kings make their annual appearance on South Potomac Street. Their visit commemorates the Epiphany -- the end of the Advent season -- and the arrival of the Magi before the newborn Christ child.

"I love this tradition, it's part of my culture," said Doralee Calderon, 12, whose parents emigrated from Mexico. "I think it's something that should be kept alive."

In most Spanish-speaking countries, children do not write to Santa Claus for gifts. Instead, they ask the Magi -- Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior -- for presents. On the eve of the Epiphany, children place hay and water under their beds as an offering to the kings' camels. In the morning, they look in the same place for gifts.

"I felt like a king, handing out gifts," said Paul Kupinski, who portrayed King Caspar. "To see the children smiling, it was the best feeling."

Three Kings Day has been celebrated at the Episcopal church for two years. The event is sponsored by the church and Education-Based Latino Outreach, a community group that provides English classes, tutoring and cultural programs to about 40 families.

Jose Ruiz, executive director of EBLO, said he started the tradition because many Hispanic families have abandoned Three Kings Day in favor of Christmas and Santa Claus. "It's a special way of maintaining our culture, our identity," he said.

Three Kings Day is usually celebrated on the Epiphany (Jan. 6), but the festivities were postponed this year because the holiday fell on a weeknight, Ruiz said.

The children who celebrated the event were thrilled by the prospect of presents, but not all of them seemed to grasp the day's religious and cultural importance.

"I never heard of the three kings before ," said 8-year-old Lauren Beeker of Hampstead. "We got to sing and got nice gifts."

Beeker was one of about 20 children who traveled from the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Westminster for their first Three Kings Day celebration.

"I think it's nice that other kids are learning about our traditions," said Rafael Otero, 13, of East Baltimore. "We need to learn from one another."

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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