2016-01-06 / Editorials

Merry Little Christmas

Today is the Feast of the Three Kings, who according to the Biblical Gospel of Matthew, arrived from the East bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus, who was only 12 days old. They are also known as the Magi, or Wise Men who followed the Star of Bethlehem which hovered above the manger where Jesus was born. The holiday is also known as the Epiphany, from the Greek word for “manifestation,” or Theophany, meaning “vision of God.”

It is important in the Christian world as the discovery of Jesus by Gentiles, another word for “non-Jews,” and thus was the immediate acknowledgement of Jesus’ spiritual reign over the entire world, as exemplified by the fact that the baby Jesus was paid homage to by Kings from the furthest reaches of the known world. It is most commonly believed they came from Mesopotamia (Iraq), India, and Persia (Iran). The kings are alternatively thought to represent Asia, Ethiopia and Europe and other places.

The feast of the Three Kings, or Magi is probably the origin of gift-giving at Christmastime, as well as other traditions which now surround Santa Claus. One difference is their arrival is most commonly celebrated on January 6, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, like the song, with all the presents arriving from “True Love.” It is also often celebrated with parades and feasting the first Sunday after January 1, and by Eastern Churches, which follow the Julian calendar, it is celebrated on January 19.

The gold offered by Balthazar from Babylonia is a symbolic acknowledgment of Jesus’ royal standing as “King of the Jews,” while the frankincense brought by Caspar from India represents prayer rising to the heavens reflecting the divine nature of Jesus as the Son of God. And finally the myrrh, brought by Melchior from Persia, a perfume often used in embalming, was given, symbolizing of Jesus’ other aspect as a mortal human, and foreshadowing his death as the supreme sacrifice to save humanity from damnation for its sinful nature.

There is not complete agreement about where the Three Kings came from, what they brought, their names, nor even how many of them there were – some traditions hold that there were 12 of them. But it is a rich tradition, and all are invited to celebrate.

In Latino countries Christmas Day is strictly observed religiously, and Three Kings Day, or El Dia de los Reyes is also very important and celebrated, for the Three Kings were canonized and thus are honored as saints. In Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Paraguay, the children traditionally prepare a drink for each king, and for the camels, water and a box filled with straw or just some, and they also tuck their wish list into the box which is left under their bed. They listen for camel hooves the evening of January 5, and on the morning of January 6, the straw will be gone, having been eaten by hungry camels, and hopefully the box will hold their wished-for presents. In some countries shoes are left outside the door to be filled with goodies. In Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Mexico and here in the US, in parts of Louisiana and Texas, ring-shaped “King Cake” is traditionally served, reminiscent of a crown, and a small figure of the baby Jesus or a king is baked in.

In Ireland and the British Isles the day is known as Little Christmas, and also Women’s Christmas, when the women are relieved of homemaking duties and have parties. Little Christmas is also celebrated in the Scandinavian countries.

If you are among the lucky ones who have extended their Christmas holiday celebrations, we raise a toast to you, and look forward to any parades and feasts being held around town!

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