WIMAUMA — Moments before walking onstage, one of the three kings got the jitters.
Josue Peraza, 13, fidgeted with his crown and tugged at his robe. One of his friends noticed.
"You can do this," Leslie Lerma, 12, told him. "You're not doing this for them, you're doing it for God, so you shouldn't be nervous."
The performance — a re-enactment of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus' first meeting with the three wise men — earned a round of applause from an audience packed with parents.
About 300 people gathered Saturday at Iglesia De Dios Elim in Wimauma for Dia de Los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, a traditional Latin American Epiphany celebration.
Typically held on Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas, the celebration marks the time it took for the three kings to arrive at the birth site of Jesus. The day is geared toward children, with the three kings delivering presents to them just like they did to Jesus.
It's a tradition that older generations are fighting to hold on to.
"The more and more that families go into mainstream life, the more Three Kings Day gets set aside," said Domingo Noriega, a volunteer with the Florida Institute for Community Studies, which helped organize the event.
"Santa Claus is up here," Noriega said, holding his hand above his head, "and the three kings are losing."
The event brings together families from several churches in the Ruskin and Wimauma area. Those in attendance watched skits, sang songs and played games. The children, many from low-income families, received bags of donated gifts from three kings Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar.
Toys, shoes and books were collected by the Ronald McDonald House. Support also came from Metropolitan Ministries, Independent Bar and Cafe in Seminole Heights and Garcia's Bakery in Wimauma, which provided the traditional Rosca bread. Members of the University of South Florida chapter of Lambda Upsilon Lambda, a Latin fraternity, volunteered their time.
Aracely Sanchez of Ruskin came to the event with her 10-year-old daughter. She said she has noticed that for some families, the tradition of Three Kings Day seems to be slipping away.
"Santa Claus is a big part of childhood, but children also need to know the story of Jesus and the three kings," she said. "A lot of people focus more on Christmas than they do on this day."
Frances Garcia of Wimauma brought her nieces and nephews to the event. The story of the three kings offers a useful life lesson for children, she said.
"We're trying to seek Jesus just like the three kings were," she said. "We just have to follow them."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.