A Peruvian epiphany

by Reuben Sancken

As I face the frigid wind and blizzard snows of winter, it is not difficult for me to miss the much warmer and preferable climate of Lima, Peru. It was two years ago this semester when I went on my SST journey. Some of my fondest memories of S.S.T. are of the hospitality of my host families.

It is often difficult for people when they are placed in a new environment that has different customs and a language of which they have limited ability. It was awkward when I first met my host family in Lima. Only basic phrases would come to my mind that I learned in Spanish classes, so I was nervous when they informed me that I would be meeting extended family at a Los Tres Reyes Magos (The Three Wise Men) celebration. This holiday celebrates epiphany, which commemorates the twelfth day after Jesus’ birth when the wise men came to visit him bearing gifts. Traditionally in Peru, the three wise men play a similar role as Santa Claus in western culture. Children write letters to their favorite wise man who then brings them presents on epiphany.

Anyway, I walked with my host family to another home a block away. There I met extended host family, and reunited with several other S.S.T.ers that shared the same extended family. My host grandparents, aunts, and uncles immediately flooded me with questions. I responded with basic phrases about my background, while I ate some treats and punch. They had an elaborate nativity display on several of their tables. We were called to gather around the display.

I observed my host parents take a wise man figure from one table and set it in the manger scene on another. I imagine this was an action symbolizing the journey of the wise men to Jesus. They both gave short prayers, then my host aunt and uncle repeated the process. They turned to me, my host brothers, and cousins and told us that it was our turn to come forward. They requested that I give a prayer with the others. I was not that excited to show off my limited Spanish, but I obeyed their request. I stumbled through a few words and my host father told me that I could say it in English. Alas, I did not receive a gift from a wise man, but I am thankful for my host family’s sensitive and accommodating nature, and was honored that they let me participate in their epiphany tradition as a member of the family rather than a detached observer.

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