Three Kings Pass Through Harlem for the 42nd Year in a Row

The legendary Three Kings of Bethlehem could be spotted trekking through Manhattan streets on their trusty camels throughout Jan. 5.

The Three Kings Day Parade—organized by El Museo del Barrio—is celebrating its 42nd year in making Harlem the stage for its Christian belief-based trek first made over 2,000 years ago toward a twinkling message in the sky, indicating the birth of Jesus.

Besides the elegantly dressed and obediently gentle camels—the choice vehicle of ancient kings—the parade was filled with paper crowns, marching bands, Puerto Rican caroling, also known as Parrandas, and several maracas. A parade made up of Latin spirit and culture enlivened Harlem’s blocks from 106th Street to 115th Street.

The mission of El Museo del Barrio is to “present and preserve the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and all Latin Americans in the United States,” according to the museum’s website. Raphael Montañez Ortiz founded the museum in 1969, alongside a coalition of Puerto Rican parents, educators, activists, and educators.

The 42 annual Three Kings Day Parade.
Stilt dancers wave their flags in the 42nd annual Three Kings Day Parade in New York, on Jan. 4, 2019. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Stilt dancers trumped their flags, and towered over joyful groups of school children who shook their maracas to their own unique rhythms. According to the museum’s press release, more than 5,000 people attend the event each year.

From 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., the Three Kings—which were giant hand-made puppets—made their way through Harlem, accompanied by their adoring fans, both young and old, in celebration of the day.

El Día de Reyes

The Three Kings in the Christian tradition are also known as Magi, who journeyed from the eastern lands, bearing three gifts for the newborn: myrrh, frankincense, and gold.

Three Kings Day is also known as epiphany, a holiday that pays homage to the three gift bearers. While children in the United States receive gifts on Christmas, in many Latin countries Santa passes the baton to three bringers of goodies.  The holiday traces back to the 4th Century AD.

Children in the Three Kings Day Parade
Drummers add a festive beat to the 42nd annual Three Kings Day Parade in New York, on Jan. 4, 2019. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Part of the tradition is the Rosca de Reyes, a round and baked holiday cake containing a small plastic figurine. Traditionally, whoever eats the cake and so happens to eat a piece with the small figurine, must plan a party for Candlemas Day on Feb. 2.