Deymar was excited to get his hands on Trouble at school Tuesday. A classmate, who got a remote control helicopter, wasn’t as sure he would get to enjoy his gift.
“It says ages 10 and up,” the classmate (who did not wish to give his name) said upon inspecting the wording on the helicopter toy box, “but I’m only 8.”
Deymar’s fourth grade class joined students from kindergarten on up in the cafeteria of John S. Martinez for a Three Kings Day celebration hosted by the New Haven Hispanic Firefighters Association. About 250 students participated.
The association has organized celebrations like this every year since its founding, Rafael Zayas said. Zayas, a captain in the fire department and president of the association, said the event enables students of all backgrounds to engage with Latin American culture and celebrate the holiday together. The New Haven Hispanic Firefighters Association organizes the celebration at a different school each year.
Zayas said that when he was a kid, Three Kings Day was an exciting holiday. The three kings — people dressed as the wise men who visited the baby Jesus in Bethelehem — would deliver presents during the night, like Santa Claus.
“We’d put a box of hay and water under our beds every Three Kings Day, and their camels would eat the hay and drink the water and leave us presents,” Zayas told the assembled students Tuesday. While Zayas spoke, the other firefighters set up bags of gifts on the stage in the cafeteria, at Zayas’ signal, the firefighters opened the curtain on the stage.
“Do you all like presents?” Zayas asked the students, who cheered the reveal.
Despite the curtain, Deymar noted, the students had known they would get presents.
Before the students got their new toys and games, Mayor Toni Harp addressed the room. The story of the three kings, Harp said, recognizes the importance of every child, and offers a chance to show kids how special they all are.
Principal Luis Menacho said the event presented no challenges, as the firefighters did all the organizing. Menacho said he was happy his school had a chance to host the event, and that it reflects the school’s diversity and inclusivity at John S Martinez.
“We’re united, and we celebrate all cultures,” Menacho said.
State Reps. Al Paollilo and Juan Candelaria and Fair Haven Alder Joe Crespo played the kings, and handed out presents with the firefighters Tuesday.
Candelaria thanked the firefighters for putting together the celebration, as it provided an opportunity for students, firefighters, and community members to engage with their cultural heritage.
Zayas added that this Three Kings Day offered a chance to help students who moved to New Haven after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.