Frigid temps put twists on Three Kings Day celebrations

January 6, 2014

WBEZ/Linda Lutton
Panaderia Nuevo Leon is famous for its Three Kings “roscas.” Today, on what should have been one of the busiest days of the year, the cold kept the bakery nearly empty.

January 6 is known as the Epiphany. For children in Latin America, today is like Christmas morning. Many awake to presents brought by Los Tres Reyes Magos—the Three Wise Men.

In Chicago, the day’s frigid temperatures put some twists on a holiday that many local Latinos also observe.

In Humboldt Park, the Three Kings left presents under three-year-old Isabela Emmanuelli’s bed. She and her two-year-old brother got Matchbox cars, little purses, a miniature vacuum cleaner.

And the water and food they left for the Wise Men’s camels mysteriously vanished.

For their dad, Puerto Rican musician Jorge Emmanuelli—it’s important to carry on traditions like this.

“It’s thrilling, it’s thrilling for the kids, and also for the parents that get involved, because we lived that,” says Emmanuelli. “I lived that myself.” Emmanuelli says he still remembers his father taking him by the hand to pick grass from the family’s yard to feed to the Three Kings’ animals. With the cold in Chicago, Emmanuelli turned to the houseplants for camel food.

For many kids in Chicago, today was a joyous convergence-- brand-new toys and a day off school to play with them.

But there were disappointments too.

Today was to be the 20th anniversary of a Three Kings Parade down Division Street in Humboldt Park. The parade usually ends with a massive gift give-away. It’s the first time the January parade has ever been cancelled. Organizers say they’ll reschedule the event, which always features three Chicagoans dressed as the Wise Men.

And businesses that typically brace for January 6 as one of their biggest days of the year saw just a trickle of customers.

Mexican bakeries make a special gallette of bread for this holiday—a Rosca de Reyes. Each rosca, decorated with sugar and dried fruit, has a small plastic baby trinket hidden somewhere inside. Tradition says whoever gets the piece of bread with the baby inside has to throw a party for everyone else.

Pilsen’s Nuevo Leon bakery is famous for its roscas. But at midday today, the bakery was nearly empty.  A manager said last year Nuevo Leon sold more than 500 roscas, but with so few people on the street because of the cold, he was planning to send the bakers home early today.

Customer Deyanira Avila, who got the day off from work, saw an upside. “Usually I can’t even find roscas in the afternoon because they're all sold out. It’s kind of nice that today we came in and there were many to choose from,” Avila said.

Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her @WBEZeducation.