Area ethnic traditions endure

Last updated: January 05. 2014 11:57PM - 3047 Views
JANINE UNGVARSKY Times Leader Correspondent

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WILKES-BARRE — Whether they call it Dia de Los Reyes, Theophany or Christmas Eve, the area faithful of several traditions are celebrating special holidays today.

Dia de Los Reyes, or Feast of the Kings, is a commemoration of the visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus celebrated in many Spanish-speaking countries, where the visit from the Kings is viewed much like a visit from Santa in other areas. Locally, many residents took part in a celebration at the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center on Sunday.

Ryan Smith, program executive for the CYC, said the event began eight years ago as a way to be welcoming to the Latino community and is attended by anywhere between 200 and 500 people each year. “We have dancers, a DJ, authentic food, music, face painting, and we always have a piñata, which is a lot of fun. And we have the visit by the Three Kings, and each child gets a gift,” Smith said.

The day is a more solemn and spiritually oriented one for members of Orthodox faiths that use the revised calendar, which marks today as Theophany — the shining forth and manifestation of God. The commemoration centers on the baptism of Christ and the blessing of water, said the Very Rev. David Shewczyk, rector at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Wilkes-Barre.

While threatening weather canceled the parish’s evening Vespers and a planned parish dinner, Holy Trinity celebrated Theophany by blessing water during morning services on Sunday, and many parishioners also celebrate with a supper featuring special traditional dishes.

But for Shewczyk and many of his parishioners, a highlight of the celebration is the blessing of homes.

“I started helping with the blessing of homes when I was in high school and continued after I was ordained,” he said.

It will take up to a week for Shewczyk to visit all his parishioner’s homes, which will each be prepared with a table draped in white, a candle, an icon and a bowl full of holy water. Shewczyk will bless each room and pray for those who live there.

“The reason we bless homes is because St. Paul and the Holy Fathers indicated that the home is the ‘little church,’ ” Shewczyk said. “That’s where people live most of their lives and work out their salvation, and we pray that they live their lives in a good and godly manner.”

Those of the Orthodox faiths who use the Julian calendar will wait a few weeks for Theophany. For them, the calendar says today is Dec. 24 and tomorrow is Christmas. St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church on Seneca Street is the lone Wilkes-Barre church adhering to the Julian calendar, according to St. Nicholas interim priest the Very Rev. Michael Lepa. He will celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Christmas at the church at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

But the celebration for many will begin on Monday evening, with a special Holy Supper of 12 meatless dishes, representing the 12 apostles.

“For many, when they see the first star of Christmas Eve is when they start the Holy Supper,” Lepa said.

St. Nicholas Church President John Dubik said keeping the old traditions, including special foods, is important to the 50 or so church members. For instance, he said it is customary at the Holy Supper for everyone to have first a piece of garlic, representing the bitterness of sin, and a piece of bread dippedin honey, symbolizing how Christ’s coming made the world sweet. Something else that makes the day sweet for many: the old traditional songs.

“The women in our choir love singing the old carols, in Russian or in English,” Dubik said.

Another custom is a special greeting, Dubik said.

“From Christmas through Theophany Eve, we greet each other with ‘Christ is born,’ and the response is ‘Glorify Him.’” Dubik said. “It leaves us with no question about keeping Christ in Christmas.”

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