For our photojournalism workshop we arranged a visit to a local family who have two young daughters, Paula Sarai, age six, and Mayra Belen age three. We wanted to fully experience the joy of Day of the Three Kings (Dia de los Tres Reyes) through the perspective of the children. Epiphany, held on January 6, is purely a children’s celebration and much more modest than the U.S. version of Christmas.
Here, Mexican children awaken early in the morning to find that the three wise men have delivered gifts under the Christmas tree while they are sleeping. Parents Pedro and Margarita tell us that it is traditional for girls to receive dolls or kitchen sets (cookware and dishes) and for boys to get trucks or bicycles.
It was late afternoon when we arrived at the family’s home; it was almost dusk. After our warm welcome into the interior courtyard of the home, we join the family around an elaborate wrought-iron table and chairs. The children come to greet each of us with extended hands, excited to show us their gifts.
Then, Pedro asked us if we know about the special story of the house. No, we said. And he retells the story his grandfather told him 13 years ago:
Many years ago an old man was selling an image of Christ, going door to door in the village of Teotitlan del Valle. Then, this was primarily a farming community and only the women were home during the day when the men were in the fields. One woman was interested but said she needed to ask her husband if she could buy the image. She asked the vendor to return. When the husband came back from the fields, the man was nowhere to be seen and the husband asked where he was. Only the crucifix was there leaning against a paddock. The man and woman put the image inside the house. They didn’t know if the vendor would return to collect the pesos he was asking for the image or to take the image back. The vendor never returned.
Ever since, the family has looked after the image of Christ. They thought, maybe they should return it to the church and they took it there and left it. But the next day, there it was back in their house. Again, they returned the image to church. And again, the image reappeared in their home. The image grew larger and then they couldn’t get it through the doorway. So there it stays. Now, it is behind a glass case, protected. An altar is now before it and the place where it rests has become a small chapel where people come to pray and bring flowers.
Each year on May 3, the priest arrives to give mass and each year on this day the family changes the clothes of the Christ. Three years ago, an anthropologist came from Mexico City, authenticated the statue and estimated its age to be 350 years old. The grandfather is now age 95 and the figure has been here in this house during his entire lifetime.
Do you believe? asked the Grandmother Magdalena. I believe that God is everywhere, she says. We nod in respect.
After our visit to the altar, we gathered around the family dining table to share a blessing of the season. Margarita passed homemade tostaditos (little tostados) of black beans, lettuce and queso fresco.
Paula and Mayra each take turns cutting the Rosca de Reyes. Margarita serves traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate (hot chocolate made with water, not milk). The girls quietly return their gifts, neatly repacked, under the tree.
Afterward, we reflected upon the experience of family cohesiveness, the cultural experiences we shared, our ability to take part in holiday celebrations, and the memories of our connection to people that will stay with us forever.