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A joyous Three Kings Day in Ruskin

From left, Pascual Diaz, Josue Rios and Jose Miranda, dressed as the three kings, march up the aisle during the Three Kings Day festivities Saturday at Iglesia Ministerios la Red in Ruskin.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

From left, Pascual Diaz, Josue Rios and Jose Miranda, dressed as the three kings, march up the aisle during the Three Kings Day festivities Saturday at Iglesia Ministerios la Red in Ruskin.

RUSKIN — Patricia Guerrero closed her eyes.

A smile on her face, she reached to her right and left and pulled her two squirming sons close as a minister said a prayer for togetherness.

When 8-year-old Danny and 7-year-old Peter managed to wriggle free, Guerrero kissed both of them atop the head and laughed. This was, after all, their day.

The Guerreros were one of about 200 families that participated in Ruskin's 10th annual Dia de Los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, a traditional Latin American Epiphany celebration.

At the little Iglesia Ministerios la Red church, local Hispanic families watched a re-enactment of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus' first night together, sang songs, watched a puppet show and received bags of donated gifts from three kings Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar, played by Jose Miranda, Josue Rios and Pascual Diaz.

Before handing out the presents and posing for pictures, the kings served traditional Rosca, a wheel-shaped bread dotted with pieces of fruit, and hot chocolate.

Mouths full of the goodies, the children sifted through their treasures.

"This one's mine!" squealed 3-year-old Izaiah Soto as he pulled a Cootie insect game from his family's bag. "Let's take it home!"

While many of these families also celebrate Christmas, some reserve holiday gift giving for this occasion, said Alayne Unterberger, executive director of the Florida Institute of Community Studies. The tradition is based on the Christian story of the three wise men who presented Jesus with gold, incense and myrrh after his birth.

"Three Kings Day is really a day for the parents to honor children — to act like the kings and give them presents," Unterberger said. "That's what they focus on as the true meaning (of the holiday)."

In the months leading up to Saturday's event, Unterberger and the other organizers visited local churches to sign up hundreds of families, noting each child's age and gender for the gift selection.

Toys, clothes and stuffed animals were collected by the Ronald McDonald House, the Beth-El Mission, the Lord's Light House Mission, Metropolitan Ministries, the University Area Community Development Association and the Independent cafe and bar.

Eight-year-old Cecilia Perez got a book about Florida and a princess Barbie doll. "It's very cute," she said.

Brian Gonzalez, 12, grinned when he pulled a portable radio from his bag, while his brother, 11-year-old Eulides Gonzalez, inspected a Hess truck jet launcher. "Pretty cool!"

As her three daughters waited quietly for the kings to call their number, Lucia Longoria, 25, reflected on the afternoon.

"It's a good thing, what they're doing," Longoria said. "It shows that we really do have family besides our own family."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

A joyous Three Kings Day in Ruskin 01/08/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 8, 2011 9:39pm]

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