- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2012

It’s not every day a donkey can be seen walking through the heart of Columbia Heights, but on Sunday the four-legged creature was just a small part of the GALA Hispanic Theatre’s Three Kings Day Celebration. And for Cesarina Pierre, it was a welcome sight.

“It’s nice to see this is celebrated in D.C.,” the Miami transplant remarked as she snapped a photo of the biblical procession as it made its way past the Giant Food supermarket on Park Street Northwest.

Three Kings Day — also referred to as the Epiphany — is ordinarily celebrated on Jan. 6 in honor of the three royals who traveled to Bethlehem to honor the newborn Jesus.

It’s an important holiday for some religions. But as Roland Roebuck explained while putting on his costume to play King Baltasar, the feast day also is an important teaching moment.

“We want to ensure that kids that are brought up in the United States have the opportunity to embrace, appreciate and learn from this tradition,” said Mr. Roebuck, a 64-year-old Puerto Rico native.

As Xiomara Mercado, also a Puerto Rico native, readied herself in the dressing room, near where Mr. Roebuck was straightening his cloak, she also recalled growing up and looking forward to the Three Kings celebration — a story she has taught her young son.

The GALA Theatre has hosted the popular celebration for 35 years at a number of locations, and each year it has grown, said executive director and co-founder Rebecca Medrano.

To be sure, an hour before the theater opened, there was a line snaking nearly a block down 14th Street Northwest made up of families with children eagerly waiting for their glittery paper crowns, hot chocolate and churros.

Theater spokeswoman Camille Cintron said the day is the one time each year when an event “is really community-driven.”

“It’s focused on a tradition that is unique to the Latin community,” she said.

The celebration began with a procession around the 3300 block of 14th Street, where the rehabilitated theater is located, and quickly grew into something similar to a mob scene around a celebrity.

Passers-by bumped in to one another hoping to catch a glimpse of the livestock, and children waved and shouted at the three kings, who greeted revelers with hugs, smiles and songs.

Once inside, the audience of roughly 300 people was entertained by dancers and singers, and a performance by members of the National Symphony Orchestra.

At the end of the show, each child was given a gift, though Ms. Medrano said the theatre asks that families bring a gift as well.

“We don’t do commercial Christmas much,” she said. “It’s much more of a special setting.”

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