Everyone is familiar with the Twelve Days of Christmas. It’s a funny song where the gift-giver gives strange gifts of “lords a leaping”, and various birds, including turtledoves and a “partridge in a pear tree.” (Really, who would want all those birds?) With the 12 days of Christmas, it seems the gifts are given the 12 days before Christmas. The Bible tells us of the first gifts given in celebration of Christ’s birth by the Wise Men, and one tradition holds that the Wise Men visited 12 days after Christ’s birth. January 6 is celebrated in some parts of the world as 3 Kings Day.
I talked previously about the Wise Men and their part in the Christmas Story. Not much is known about them, but there are quite a few interesting legends. For example, we assume there are 3 Wise Men, but some ancient paintings show as few as two, and sometimes as many as four. Names and legends have even sprung up to provide more information about these men.
In the Greek church, Gaspar (or Caspar), Melchior and Balthasar are their names. Some artists have shown them to represent all of humanity: its youth, middle age, and elderly. In the Renaissance, other artists sought to make the magi represent race, color and creed. In one painting, one of the Magi is represented as coming from Ethiopia and was black. The others came from Persia and India.
Syrian Christians have a 6th century tale naming them Horamistar, King of Persia; Yestigat King of Saba; and Perozad, king of Sheba. Wikipedia lists some other names and legends, and has some footnotes to provide some sources to these legends.
According to this video, in the Spanish world, presents are not exchanged on Christmas, but 12 days later on 3 Kings Day, January 6. Presents under the tree are left by the 3 Kings, not Santa Claus. A special cake is prepared, representing good luck for the next year. The one who finds a ring cooked into the cake gets the good luck.
“In Persia is the city of Saba, from which the Three Magi set out and in this city they are buried, in three very large and beautiful monuments, side by side. And above them there is a square building, beautifully kept. The bodies are still entire, with hair and beard remaining.”
Another legend says their bones were allegedly removed by Helena, mother of Constantine, who was looking for Christian artifacts in the 4th century. She took them to Byzantium, and the bones have been moved a few times, finally ending up in Cologne, where they are today, sealed in a golden coffin in a cathedral.
So, can anyone verify that the Spanish celebrate 3 Kings Day? It sounds like a very interesting tradition to me. I really like the cake idea. About 3 years ago, I was trying to explain to my then 4 year old that Christmas was more than just Santa Claus. I told him that it was Jesus’ birthday. My boy exclaimed, “We should make him a cake!”
As I thought of this 3 Kings Day tradition, I thought that might be an interesting addition to the holidays. Perhaps we should all celebrate 3 Kings Day. Perhaps we could save some money on the post-Christmas sales if we waited to buy presents after Christmas. What do you think? I like the idea of 3 Kings Day better than giving birds to my love (and I think she wouldn’t know what to do with all the birds either.)