Last Wednesday, Woodhull Hospital, NYPD, FDNY and elected officials hosted an outdoor, socially distanced gift distribution event for local children.
Three Kings Day, also known as the Feast of the Epiphany, marks the arrival of the Three Wise Men, also known as the Magi. The three kings followed a star for 12 days across the desert to deliver gifts to baby Jesus. The holiday is typically celebrated 12 days after Christmas on January 6.
Since 1998, the north Brooklyn community has celebrated Three Kings Day with a large parade and thousands of gifts for local kids. However, due to the pandemic, the 24th annual parade was called off.
When Jessica Arocho, director of community affairs for Woodhull Hospital, learned that the parade was cancelled, she sprung into action.
“I said, that can’t happen,” she said. “We’ve got to do something.”
Arocho, who noted that Woodhull is usually a sponsor of the Brooklyn Three Kings Day Parade, said the hospital had leftover toys to give away. Her initial idea was to host something “cute and small.”
She sent emails to local schools and asked parents to come with their children. Arocho reached out to community members on social media and asked them to share the event.
The committee behind the Brooklyn Three Kings Day Parade eventually got involved. At the event, hundreds of children received gifts and toys.
“Three Kings Day is to teach you the gift of giving,” Arocho said. “This holiday is extremely important for us.”
Although Arocho said the annual parade is a tradition that “has become synonymous with our community,” she said it was prudent to cancel it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that the parade’s founder, 76-year-old Radames Millan and his wife, were both infected by the virus, but have since recovered.
Alejandro Zayas, the parade’s director of public relations, said despite cancelling the event, it was important to still continue the tradition.
“We cannot let the tradition go away because of the pandemic,” he said. “We all went through so much this past year, we want this year to start right.”
Zayas said it was a “very tough decision” to call off the parade, but was pleasantly surprised by the turnout for the substitute event. Despite the cold and that it took place on a weekday, hundreds of families came out to celebrate.
“We have so many people out here supporting the tradition,” he said.
Community Board 4 Chair Robert Camacho said growing up, the Three Kings were “our Santa Claus.”
“Back in the day, that’s who gave out the gifts we wanted,” he said.
While he felt sad that the parade wasn’t happening and that he couldn’t hug his family during the holidays like he used to, he was happy the tradition still lives on.
“At least this will bring us a little hope that we still have something to count on,” Camacho said. “That’s what it’s all about.”