Los Tres Reyes

This Friday, Centro Hispano will host its annual Los Tres Reyes event, a celebration attended by hundreds of kids. 

Expect a big crowd at Madison's Centro Hispano on Friday for one of the organization's biggest events of the year: Los Tres Reyes.

"It is one (the) most successful and popular events at Centro Hispano," said Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes. "It gets packed." 

The Los Tres Reyes, or “Three Kings,” event will take place at Centro Hispano, 810 W. Badger Road, on Friday, Jan. 12 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

The annual celebration hosts hundreds of kids and their families and includes gifts for the kids, face painting, traditional pastries and hot chocolate. The event is free and open to the public.

Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos commemorates the Christian holiday Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas celebrating the arrival of the Magi to give gifts to the baby Jesus. 

Traditions for the holiday vary throughout the Latino world, but include gifts for children from the three kings, setting out hay or grass for the king’s camels and eating rosca de reyes, candied bread shaped in a circle to represent a crown. At Centro, Reyes said, the emphasis is on kids.

In past years, Centro has seen 400 kids, plus their parents, attend. Each child receives a free gift, made possible by donations of toys and books from organizations like Blackhawk Church and United Way of Dane County. Volunteers like church groups, Epic Systems employees and Girl Scout troops come in to help wrap and label the gifts.

Thirty lucky kids will get free bikes, helmets and bike locks from Wheels for Winners, an organization that provides bikes to youth that participate in community service. 

The gifts are just one major draw for the kids, said Joey Graffagnino, an Americorp Vista volunteer at Centro. The other is the three kings themselves, volunteers who arrive in costume and take pictures with the kids.

The event is a community celebration, Graffagnino said, and there will be treats to celebrate it, including cinnamon hot chocolate donated by Willy Street Co-op, traditional rosca pastry donated by Food Fight Restaurant Group, and coffee for the adults. 

"It's such a wonderful event, and it's going to be great just with the new remodeling (of Centro) this year," Reyes said. 

Baltazar De Anda Santana, an ambassador for the Share and Be Aware program at the Wisconsin Bike Federation, will be there to teach kids about bike safety and helmet fitting.

De Anda Santana is from Mexico where, he said, “we celebrate Christmas, but we celebrate the Dia de los Reyes a little bit more.”

When he first came to Madison, the Centro celebration was a way to connect with the traditions he had left in his home country. And with his opportune name — Baltazar is traditionally one of the names of the kings — he played the role of a king at Centro for several years.

The event is plenty of fun, but the symbolism of the kings following a star has a deeper meaning to him.

“Our communities, we continue following the stars and many times that star was documents for someone, it can be the American dream for other people,” he said. “It just means that are all looking for something.”