01/04/09 — The end of Christmas: Annual Hispanic festival reaches across community

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The end of Christmas: Annual Hispanic festival reaches across community

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 4, 2009 2:00 AM

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Mary and Joseph, played by Ruby Robiero, left, and Ignacio Mujica, travel from door to door in a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary's search for shelter in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve during the Three Kings Festival held at the Waynesborough Historic Village Saturday.

Saturday morning dawned a bit damp and dreary, but Willie Cartagena remained optimistic it would turn into a bright and mild winter day for the fifth annual Three Kings Festival, or Id De Los Tres Reyes Mago, at the Waynesborough Historical Village.

He wasn't disappointed.

"Yes sir, we are going to be all right," he said as the weather cleared. "This is an opportunity to bring people together regardless of race or color. Everybody is here to have a good time. It is good to see people pulling together."

"Hopefully the sun is coming out and everybody will come and enjoy themselves," he said as he walked around checking last-minute details.

He stopped from time to time to answer his cell phone, giving directions including to people coming from Snow Hill and Greensboro.

"The word is out about our festival and I believe from what I have heard that it is one of the oldest in the state," said Cartagena, executive director of the Hispanic Development Community Center that sponsors the festival.

By the festival's noontime start the sun was shining, temperatures had moderated and the park was beginning to fill with people.

There were games for the children as well as food, entertainment and a fundraiser.

"The funds will be used for different (center) activities through the entire year like buying school supplies for needy children in elementary schools," Cartagena said. "We also have a small food pantry to help needy families in the community."

Members of the Santa Teresita del Nino Jesus group from Richlands, dressed in colorful attire, performed a program of traditional Mexican dance. Nicolas Contreras' arms were a blur of motion as he pounded a beat on the drum for the dancers that included 18-month-old Moies Mata.

The highlight of the festival was the recreation of Mary and Joseph's trek through Bethlehem going door to door looking for a room to stay in before ending up at a stable set up under the trees at the park. Moments later, the three kings emerged bearing their gifts.

It was Cartagena's idea to begin the local celebration of the traditional Three Kings Day, observed as the traditional end of the Christmas holiday by Hispanic and European cultures.

Locally, the festival is celebrated on the weekend closest to Jan. 6 -- Old Christmas, or Epiphany. For Christians it is a feast commemorating the revelation of Jesus to humanity and more specifically, the visit of the three wise men or magi.

Cartagena sees the festival as blending with the center's goal of teaching people about Hispanic culture.

"We use the event to talk a little bit about our culture," he said. "We have a lot of children born in the U.S. with Hispanic heritage and we try to tell them what is important about the Three Kings Festival.

"We started it about five years ago and we try to bring everybody together hopefully to tell about our culture. I came up with idea because it is important to share the culture and try to blend together all of the people in the community."

Cartagena said he has been pleased with the response the family-oriented festival has received.

For Xiomara Herrera, of Wayne County Partnership for Children and SmartStart, the festival is a reminder of growing up in Costa Rica.

"It turned out real nice this year with the weather and I love the dancing presentation," said Ms. Herrera who has been involved with the festival for the past two years. "It looks like more people have come to the Three Kings Festival."

The festival is an important event for the entire community, she said.

"I think because we celebrate the coming of the three kings this is a way the Anglo community can find out the way that we celebrate it," she said. "We believe in Santa Claus, but we also believe that the three kings are the ones who brings more gifts to the children at this time of the year because it was when Jesus was born and remember most (Hispanics) are Catholic.

"We give candy to the children (at the festival) and they also sing to the new baby Jesus and then give drinks and a lot of cookies to the children. That is the way I grew up seeing that and doing that in my country. I am not from Mexico, I am from Costa Rica. We are alike. We celebrate the same thing, a little bit different, but it is the same."

She added, "I know that the American people don't celebrate the three kings, but we do. I would love for everybody in Goldsboro to come and see us."

Myeshia Bryant, a student at Eastern Wayne High School, was among the members of the Mayor's Youth Council who volunteered at the festival.

"I think they had a really good day," she said taking a break from her duties at one of the children's games. "The turnout is good and everybody looks so happy. I hope that more people can join us next year."

Ms. Bryant, who also worked at the festival last year, started at 11 a.m. helping with a game in which people threw tennis balls to knock over a stack of cans.

She arrived early to look around before being put to work.

"It is very well put together and I like it," she said. "This is a good way to give back because I never knew about the Three Kings Festival before the council.

"It is just different. I probably would have never come here if it wasn't for the council. It's something outside my culture experience."

Cartagena said the Hispanic Development Community Center was originally created to focus on helping the Hispanic population, especially the children born in the U.S. who needed to know about their heritage.

However, he organizers saw the need for the entire community, so they switched the mission from just helping Hispanics to helping the entire community."

The center, located at 309 Potts Road in Dudley, provides interpreters when Hispanics need one at the courthouse, schools and hospitals.