Observed annually every 6th of January, the feast of the Epiphany is a celebration, older than Christmas, that originated in the east during the late second century.
The Greek word Epiphany (epiphanos), which means appearance or manifestation, refers to God’s Self-revelation as well as to the revelation of His Son, Jesus, to all mankind. On the other hand, the term Magi comes from the Greek word magos, which translates to English as magic. Today, we would probably call the Magi as astrologers.
Just a sidetrack: Back then, astronomy and astrology were grouped into the same study and would go hand in hand. And Magi were known to follow the pattern of the star religiously. Hence, when one day they saw a new, unusual bright star, they immediately knew it bore the news of the birth of a special king.
While most Christians celebrate this day as the arrival and gift-giving of the three wise kings to baby Jesus, some have a diverse perspective with regards to the celebration. Such as in the western church, they commemorate the day as a manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. While, in the eastern church, it commemorates the Baptism of Christ.
Some churches even recognize the Three Kings Day on different dates. One of which is the Russian Orthodox Christians, where they celebrate the holiday on the 19th. Meanwhile, in Argentina, the feast occurs mostly on the night of January 5.
The Three Wise Men
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem; saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, “In Bethlehem of Judaea, for thus it is written by the prophet.” And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Matthew 2:1-12 (King James version)
First and foremost, the Magi were not kings, but rather a caste in Persian priests who served Kings. Magi was highly known for its skill in dream interpretation and observing star movements.
Most traditions followed through the gospel of Matthew, where he mentions that these wise men from the east followed the brightest star—which eventually led them to Jesus.
According to the sixth-century Italian tradition, these wise men were composed of three Magi, namely, Casper (the white one), Balthazar (the lord of treasures), and Melchoir (king of light). These names were based on the fact that in Matthew’s Gospel he mentioned three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Here are some other facts about the Three Kings’ Day:
- Three Kings’ Day is also called “The Feast of Epiphany” which means the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (as represented by the Magi).
- The first gift, gold, represents the kingship of Christ and that the Magi accepted baby Jesus as the King of the Jews. It also symbolizes His Divinity—God in flesh;
- The essential oil of frankincense symbolizes holiness and righteousness. When burned, the frankincense induces high fragrance hence is a pleasant offering to God. Furthermore, it symbolizes Christ’s willingness to become a sacrifice, analogous to a burnt offering;
- Lastly, the resin myrrh was symbolic of Christ’s suffering and death—He was destined or was born to die. In ancient times, myrrh was used for embalming dead bodies before burial.
- The kings brought their gifts in vessels called ciboria.
- These gifts are said to come from the east of Israel, somewhere in Arabia.
- In the Orthodox Church, the Magi who followed the star were consist of twelve Kings, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel.
- According to the Torah by Jewish Rabbis, it suggests that stars have appeared in the sky during births of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. Thus, stars are believed to be signs from God—especially in announcing important events.
- In the Philippines, the Feast of the Three Kings (Araw ng Tatlong Hari) is commemorated every First Sunday of January. Moreover, it also marks the official end of the long Christmas season in the country.
- Activities during this day often include gift-giving and get-togethers.
- Filipinos also celebrate today the Pasko ng Matatanda (Feast of the Elderly), in honor of the country’s senior citizens.
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Glum, J. (2016, January 4). When Is Three Kings Day 2016? 10 Facts About The Traditions And History Of Epiphany. International Business Times. Retrieved on 2020, January 6 from ibtimes.com
Isbouts, J.P. (2018, December 24). Who were the three kings in the Christmas story?. National Geographic. Retrieved on 2020, January 3 from nationalgeographic.com
Sanchez, E. (2018, July 27). Feast of the Three Kings cap long Christmas season in the Philippines. Catholic & Cultures. Retrieved on 2020, January 6 from catholicsandcultures.org
Vatican News. (2020, January 2). Reflections for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. Retrieved on 2020, January 6 from vaticannews.va