Three Kings pose with volunteers at HAAC's Three Kings' Celebration. All photos taken by FRNJ correspondent Daniel Winner.

By Daniel Winner | AC JosepH Media Correspondent

ATLANTIC CITY Three Kings Day, or Día de Los Reyes, was celebrated on Saturday (Jan. 6) at Our Lady of the Sea Regional School in Atlantic City.

Hosted by the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County (HAAC), the event was held inside the church’s school gymnasium, providing a space for the community to gather and enjoy live performances and take part in the distribution of toys for children and clothing for those in need.

According to Jessica Grullon, vice president of HAAC, more than 700 families shared in the event.

Hispanic Leadership and Community.

Also known as the Epiphany among adherents of Western Christianity (including the Latin Church and Western Protestantism), Three Kings Day commemorates the visit of the Biblical Magi to the location of Jesus’ birth. Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Matthew recounts the story of these figures, presenting them as being “from the East” and following a star to Jerusalem.

Neither the number nor the identities of these men are expounded upon in the Bible, but Western Church traditions eventually interpreted them as being three in number. The Magi were likely priests of the Zoroastrian religion (which is where we get the word “magic”), and European society eventually dismissed their priestly functions in favor of kingship.

Today, Three Kings Day is an immensely popular holiday in Spanish-speaking countries. Marking the end of the holiday season on Jan. 6, it is typical for children to receive gifts, play games, and take part in family reunions. This year, the celebration in Atlantic City was among the biggest the city has ever seen.

“We’ve been doing this every single year, except for during the pandemic,” Grullon said. “We have over 700 families registered today. This is record-breaking for us, because we typically have around 600.

“We have over 100 volunteers from local high schools, Stockton University, Atlantic Cape Community College, and we’re really happy that we’re able to provide these resources for our families. We have hundreds of coats that have been donated, hats, gloves, clothes, so people can walk away with resources, they can walk away with something warm to wear, and then obviously walk away with a nice toy for the children to keep this tradition alive.”

The venue in the school gymnasium was jam-packed with goods from various organizations, including coats and winter apparel, as well as free toys for the children of families who participated in the merriment.

“We do it because it’s a community effort,” said Robert Ortiz of AtlantiCare. “We are a community program and we try to help. Even though we are Atlantic County PAL (Police Activities League), traditionally we’ve helped families from as far north as Toms River and as far south as Cape May. You can’t get any further south in New Jersey than Cape May without going into the ocean. But again, just because we are Atlantic County PAL doesn’t mean we’re not helping out folks from all over New Jersey. This is for anybody in need.”

Local school groups were also in attendance, ranging from high school students to university graduates. Norma Morales, a Spanish teacher of 25 years at Atlantic City High School brought along her students from the Latinos Unidos Club.

“It’s my first time here,” stated club Vice President and senior student Luis Ramirez in an interview with Front Runner New Jersey. “I love it, because it just shows my Hispanic community. I love the environment. Everyone’s loving, welcoming, and everyone’s having a good time.”

Damali Smith, a Galloway resident and member of the sorority Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority, Inc. visited with her local chapter accompanied by her Puerto Rican mother Jacqueline Smith.

“We have sisters who are actually part of HAAC,” Smith said. “And we have sisters who are of Hispanic origin. So they do celebrate Three Kings Day and we all wanted to come here today to support our sisters who are part of HAAC, as well as those who are part of the community. We’ve traveled all the way from Camden to Mercer to down here.”

The event included a moment of silence for Lt. Oscar Omar Ricalde, Station Commander of Washington Station, and former president of New Jersey Latino American Trooper Society (NJLATS) who passed away on December 27 of last year. He was 45 years old.

“You see the tremendous crowd that we have,” said AtlantiCare Case Manager Ivenny Lopez. “That’s what it means to them. We are showing them that our culture is important. We are showing them that we care for the community, and that we all come together as a community to show support for that.

“It’s been almost 30 years that we’ve been doing this,” Lopez continued. “But we would like to provide a lot more stuff for our community and for our children. Thank you for the opportunity to share this information with our community and your community. We really appreciate you very much.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Winner has a double major in Religious Studies and Japanese from Penn State University and has traveled internationally to the Far East on several occasions. His insights on Buddhism and Asian culture give a unique view of historical and modern trends. He will be serving as a contributor for Front Runner New Jersey.

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