CANANDAIGUA — Ten-year-old Nester Mendoza glued a paper strip of plastic jewels across his blue construction-paper crown, stapled his creation together after he sized it on his head and proceeded to add more jewels for a finishing touch.
The crown symbolized the Three Kings, and Nester was among the children who attended the second-annual program about the Feast of the Epiphany that was offered Jan. 6 by the Ontario County Arts Council on South Main Street.
“It’s good to teach them a little about our culture so they don’t forget it,” said Nester’s mother, Noemi Mendoza of Clifton Springs, a Mexico native who also brought to the program her three other children and a nephew. “They prefer to watch television. I prefer that we be here.”
Judi Cermak, the council’s visual-arts coordinator, said the organization seeks to help educate the community about different cultural celebrations, which also have included programs about Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. The Three Kings event attracted about 50 people, an increase from last year, and Cermak said she hopes the event continues to grow.
This year, Alejandra Molina, a professor of Spanish at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva and director of the colleges’ Intercultural Affairs, helped organize the program and presented information about how the Epiphany is celebrated throughout Latin America. She also helped spread the word about the event to area Hispanic families. Red Jacket Orchards in Seneca made a financial donation as well as provided apples and juice.
“The idea this year was to get people more involved and have it be festive,” Cermak said. “Get them up and moving.”
Thus, children made crowns, decorated the large, yellow star pi√±ata set up in the middle of one area and, just as the kings brought gifts to the newborn Jesus, they lined up to bring gifts to a statue of Jesus that was set upon a stage. The gifts, which were purchased by council members and the families in attendance, were to be donated to children enrolled in the area’s migrant Head Start program.
Prior to the children’s procession of gifts, Molina spoke about Three Kings Day traditions.
According to Molina, children in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain and Mexico write letters to their favorite king. In Puerto Rico, children leave hay in a box on Jan. 5 for the camels that transport the kings. In Argentina, children place their shoes under the bed or in the living room, and the kings are believed to fill the shoes with gifts, she added.
“Think about that, it’s similar to what we do (in the United States) and different too,” she said.
Molina said she was happy to help organizers plan this year’s program, because it helps unite the Canandaigua and Geneva communities. Plus, she added, in light of all the focus on Hispanic immigrants this year, showing the community in a positive light also is a good thing.
“Events like this remind us we are a family of immigrants,” Molina said. “It’s what makes this country great.”
Also, having the children bring up gifts to Jesus gives them a living example of the ideals of generosity and selflessness, whether one is Christian or not, she added.
“And they’re giving to other children in greater need,” Molina said.
Barbara Babij of Canandaigua decided to bring her two sons — Adam, 8, and Nathan, 5 — after reading about the event in a local newspaper.
Babij said that her family attends various cultural events to develop an understanding of other cultures.
“I just think it promotes world cooperation and peace,” she said. “Especially in this day and age, it’s … imperative.”