In Hartford, Three Kings Day mural and gift-giving help keep traditional holiday alive despite pandemic

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The three kings have arrived on Pratt Street in Hartford, just days before Three Kings Day, which is Jan. 6. New Britain artist Alicia Brown created a mural celebrating the magi, in celebration of Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos, which is a beloved annual celebration in the city’s Puerto Rican community.

Brown’s mother is Puerto Rican. Brown’s father is Jamaican. In the biracial household where she grew up, the day also had two meanings.

“Jan. 6 is my mom’s birthday. So we celebrated it as a birthday, but a religious birthday,” Brown said. “She got presents, we got presents. She’d tell us a few stories and we’d go to church.”

The creation of the Three Kings mural at 46 Pratt St., along with a mural celebrating Kwanzaa by David Jackson of Bristol at 54 Pratt St., is part of an effort to diversify Pratt’s traditional winter decorations.

Hartford Business Improvement District organizes the annual holiday displays. Chip McCabe of HBID said in previous year, the seasonal artworks have focused on Christmas and Chanukah.

“We did not do a good job representing some of the other winter holidays,” including Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day, he said. “We decided to share the love.”

Brown’s mural also was created in a spirit of diversity. One magus, in blue robes with brown eyes, has light-colored skin and carries gold. The second, in red robes with green eyes, has darker skin and carries myrrh. The third, in green robes and with blue eyes, has even darker skin and carries frankincense.

“I wanted them all to look a little bit different,” she said. Then she laughed. “But when I look at them, they all look like my brother.”

Brown, 29, is an entrepreneur, a “certified therapeutic art life coach.” Her company The Art Child (facebook.com/TheArtChild) offers classes, online and in person, for children and adults.

Brown said she is going to spend Three Kings Day introducing her boyfriend, who is not Puerto Rican, to the annual tradition. “He said, ‘you’re supposed to get gifts on this day?’” she said.

Three Kings Day

Traditionally, Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos is celebrated in Hartford with a procession of the Three Kings riding camels on Park Street. The parade, which attracts thousands of spectators every year, was canceled last year and is canceled again this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, a traditional toy giveaway was canceled, too. This year, the toy giveaway — with kings but not camels — will be held for children ages 1 to 10 on Jan. 6 at 45 Wadsworth St. Registration is closed for the event.

“They can get their toy and take a picture with the three kings. We want to keep the tradition of giving toys to children. But that is all there is this year because of the situation right now,” said Nilda Morales of the Institute for the Hispanic Family at Catholic Charities in Hartford, which presents the toy giveaway in conjunction with the Spanish American Merchants Association (SAMA).

Julio Mendoza of SAMA said celebrating the day is important because it instills the tradition in children.

“It celebrates our history, and allows the kids to always remember the three kings. We want them to grow up believing in the three kings and when they have families, to continue this tradition,” Mendoza said. “It’s tremendous to see the faces of the kids, how they look at the kings and believe in them.”

He added that Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos celebrations show Hartford that Puerto Ricans “are part of the city.

“Our culture is very important to us, and very dear. We want everyone to celebrate the three kings together,” he said.

Susan Dunne can be reached at sdunne@courant.com.