Camden Courier Post – January 7, 2000
By ANGELA RUCKER
Six-year-old Danny Dombkowski paused briefly — very briefly — after scooting out of the McGuire Gardens Community Center with his arms wrapped around a box filled with toy cars and other contraptions.
It was a little like Christmas all over again for Danny and other children celebrating Three Kings Day, a holiday many area Hispanics mark every year with gifts, holiday music and good cheer.
“It’s the vehicles,” Danny.said while eyeing his gift through the plastic wrapper. “I’m going to open it and I’m going to play with the men.”
Then he was off.
The Three Kings Day celebration at the McGuire Gardens public housing complex in East Camden was put on by the Asociacion De Puertorriquenos En Marcha, a Hispanic social services agency in Camden. The group purchased toys and candy for 300 to 350 children, said John Fuentes, the group’s executive director. More than 80 youngsters had stopped by in the first hour alone.
“We’re celebrating the traditional Latin American Christmas, sort of the Puerto Rican version,” Fuentes said.
In the biblical Christmas story, the three Magi, or wise men, traveled from the east through the desert, following a star, to find the newborn Jesus with his parents outside a Bethlehem inn. Once there, they presented the baby with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrth.
On Three Kings Day, celebrated Jan. 6, adults provide gifts for children, And at McGuire Gardens, local officials posing as the three kings — including Camden Mayor Milton Milan decked out in a flowing gold robe and red crown — passed out presents.
“We honor all kids because every kid has that potential,” said Fuentes, referring to the Christ child.
Jose Rivas, the job development coordinator at APM, said that in Puerto Rico, children usually get a lesser gift on Christmas and the main gift on Three Kings Day. “That way, they can keep the tradition,” he said.
Tables in the community center were piled with Barbie dolls, Furbies, Mr. Potato Heads, soccer balls, race cars and other toys. After getting a toy and having their photographs taken with the three kings, each child received candy.
“These guys are pretty lucky. They get to celebrate twice,” Milan said.
According to tradition, on the night before Three Kings Day, children are to place grass and water in a box underneath their beds, Fuentes explained. The tradition is similar to children placing milk and cookies out on Christmas Eve for Santa Claus. The camels that transported the Magi to Bethlehem eat and drink the grass and water, and the three kings leave gifts in the box for the children.
Any leftover toys after Three Kings Day will be distributed to children on Sunday at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, at Lois and River avenues.
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