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Buffalo's Hispanic community celebrates Three Kings

Three Kings Google image

By Sharon Osorio


Buffalo, NY – For most of us, the holiday season is now behind us. But not for many Hispanic cultures. They consider January 6 an even bigger celebration than Christmas Day.

It's Three Kings Day. As WBFO'S Sharon Osorio reports, his weekend, two "Three Kings" events are being held for needy children and families right here in Buffalo.

"I was born and raised here in Buffalo, and going to Puerto Rico for the first t time 10 years ago to fly out there for Christmas was kind of a culture shock. December 25 came and I was excited. I said, oh it's Christmas, I'm going to give out gifts, and they're like it's not until January 6. What are you doing," said Wilmer Olivencia.

Wilmer Olivencia's is the board president of the Olivencia Community Center on Swan Street in Buffalo. He says this "Christmas confusion" helped him realize the importance of the Olivencia Center observing Three Kings Day, or el Dia de los Tres Reyes, year after year, to keep the tradition alive. This Saturday, about a hundred needy families will gather at the Olivencia Center to celebrate, experience the culture of their relatives, and for the kids receive gifts, just like the story of the 3 Kings - or 3 Wise Men - bringing gifts to Jesus.

"Three 3 kings is basically celebrating the epiphany. It's something in Latin American countries celebrate. It's more common in Latin American countries to Christmas than Santa Claus. The children they put their shoe box underneath their bed, and they put the hay for the camels and they put their list of gifts that they would want, and obviously they would have to be a good boy or good girl throughout the year so one of the kings could give hem a gift," said Olivencia.

The committee working on the Olivencia-Center event accepted more than 100 applications to find qualifying families, and to get the gender and ages of each child to buy them appropriate gifts. And on Saturday, the Three Kings will distribute the gifts. "We have a direct pipeline to our Three Kings. We bring them in and they don't come in on a sleigh, they come in on camels and we park them in the back of the community center, and we have them give the gifts to all the children that participate," said Olivencia.

While the gift-giving can be one of the most tangible highlights of the event, Olivencia believes the sit-down dinner of typical Puerto Rican fare is also extremely important.

"The dinner is something we implemented in the last, say, five years and it was to put that if it's one time during the year that a family could sit down together and have a meal, some arroz con gandules, some pernil, and a salad and a little dessert, then they can sit down with their mom and dad or with kids and say we're thankful for what we've got or this is the new year we want to start it the right way. Instead of giving candy and juice," said Olivencia.

Last year, each family received a Tops gift card. But unless they receive more donations this year, Olivencia says that will have to change.

"We're looking this year to probably purchase some and raffle them off because at this point and time, 85% of the proceeds went toward purchasing the gifts, so it's kind of difficult because we also have to get the food and pay for the entertainment. Our budget wasn't as big as it was in previous years but we'll try to stretch it out as much as possible," said Olivencia.

Another Three Kings event will take place Sunday at D'Youville College. Buffalo City Council member David Rivera is a member of Western New York Hispanic & Friends Civic Association, and a sponsor of the event. Rivera's parents are from Puerto Rico.

"They came to the us in the 50s as a young child I remember them celebrating this event and we've continued to pass it on to our children and our grandchildren," said Rivera.

The event at D'Youville will also provide comforts to additional needy members of the community.

"It is a beautiful event we're able to help young children who perhaps don't have the wherewithal or parents who don't have the wherewithal to give their children presents this time of the season we're able to help them bring some joy to their lives. There are approximatley 300 families that are given clothes, toys and sometimes food so we do, we're able to help people with different things which I think is great," said Rivera.

The Olivencia Community Center continues to accept donations for its event. You can contact the center by call at (716) 852-1648.