HARTFORD—— When it began at the east end of Park Street, Sunday's Three Kings Day Parade in Hartford consisted of the three kings, their camels and about 100 people.
By the time the parade reached the Pope Park community center about a mile away, the crowd had swelled. People were drawn to the parade by the pulsating Latin music and to celebrate a holiday tradition in the Latino community.
Those who didn't join in cheered the parade as it passed though the heart of Hartford's Latino community. Once at the community center, participants viewed a nativity play and children received gifts.
Three Kings Day celebrates the day that, according to the Gospel of Matthew, the three kings — Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar — arrived in Bethlehem on camels bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the infant Jesus.
The celebration has been held in Hartford for more than 30 years and is important to the city's Latino community. In Puerto Rico, as in many other parts of Latin America, families celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Christ, but most follow the example of the Magi and exchange gifts on Three Kings Day, Jan. 6.
This year's kings were state Rep.-elect Angel Arce, Hartford Fire Chief Edward Casares Jr. and Hartford businessman Francisco Lantigua, the owner of El Moro supermarket on Hillside Avenue.
Sacha Mendoza and Judith Martinez, both of Hartford, said they brought their daughters to Sunday's parade to share an important part of their culture.
"I'm Puerto Rican and always celebrated Three Kings Day," Mendoza said. "We heard about the parade, so we decided to bring the girls to see the camels and to get presents." Her daughter Jenalize, 3, walked a portion of the parade, then hitched a ride for the rest of it.
"It's something special to share with our kids," Martinez said, referring to her daughter Jessenia, 5.
At the Pope Park community center, camel rides were a popular attraction. Two camels carried delighted children around a corral.
"It's a special animal," said Jose Rivera, 10, of Bristol. "Camels are wonderful animals."
His father, Jose Capeles, said Three Kings Day is a way for families to connect with the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ. So much of the holiday is about Santa Claus, Capeles said.
"The kids can see and touch the camel and connect to the past," Capeles said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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