Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) – January 6, 2019 – 12:00am
The feast of the Three Kings today ends the long Christmas season in the Philippines. Although it is much celebrated in Spain and Latin American countries it is not so in the Philippines. Although there is an obligatory mass and it is a public holiday it is anti-climactic. With thousands of overseas Filipinos working abroad it was chaos in the airports. It is the day Filipinos prepare to go back to work in different countries.
In a way, it is also a departure from the influence of colonial Spain. In other countries colonized by Spain like Mexico, celebrations of this feast are big.
As far as I can remember as a child we hang socks for Santa Claus but for Three Kings we put our shoes out when it is said they will put money in the shoes. That is not practiced anymore in most families.
Like Christmas itself the story of the Three Kings varies but the generally accepted version comes from the Christmas story of the gospel of Matthew 2:1-12.
“After Jesus was born, Wise Men came to look for Him, probably from an area which is now in either Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Yemen. Although they are often called the ‘Three Kings,’ the Bible does not say how many there were, or that they were kings. One theory is that they might have been Kings of the Yemen, as during this time the Kings of Yemen were Jews. Three is only a guess because they brought with them three gifts: but however many there were of them, they probably would have had many more servants with them.
They were certainly men of great learning. The word Magi comes from the greek word ‘magos’ (where the English word ‘magic’ comes from). Magos itself comes from the old Persian word ‘Magupati’. This was the title given to priests in a sect of the ancient Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism. Today we’d called them astrologers. Back then astronomy and astrology were part of the same overall studies (and ‘science’) and went hand in hand with each other. The magi would have followed the patterns of the stars religiously. They would have also probably been very rich and held in high esteem in their own society and by people who weren’t from their country or religion.
They had seen an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special king in Israel. No one really knows what the new star in the sky was, and there are many theories including comets, supernovas, a conjunction of planets or something supernatural! Find out more about the star in the Star of Bethlehem page in the Christmas Customs section. The Magi would have known about the prophesies of a special Jewish Savior (also known as the Messiah) from when the Jews had been held captive in ancient Babylon several hundred years before.
Legends are told about them and they have been given names. This is how they are often described:
Gaspar (or Caspar), who has brown hair and a brown beard (or no beard!) and wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus. Melchior, who has long white hair and a white beard and wears a gold cloak. He is the King of Arabia. Melchior represents the Gold brought to Jesus. Balthazar, who has black skin and a black beard (or no beard!) and wears a purple cloak. He is the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus.
Herod asked the Wise Men to find Jesus and tell him where he was, not so he could go and worship him as he said, but so he could kill him! He thought that Jesus sounded like a new King that could come and take his power away.
When the Wise Men found Jesus and Mary, they would have been living in a normal house, probably in Bethlehem or Jerusalem, because by this time Jesus would have been aged between one and two. Then they gave their gifts to him. The gifts seem quite strange to give to a baby, but Christians believe that they had the following meanings:
Gold: is associated with Kings and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of Kings.
Frankincense: is sometimes used in worship in churches and showed that people would worship Jesus.
Myrrh: is a perfume that is put on dead bodies to make them smell nice; Christian believe that it showed that Jesus would suffer and die.
The gifts are also all things that come from east of Israel in Arabia.
When the wise men were about to go to tell Herod where Jesus was, they were warned in a dream not to, so Herod could not carry out his horrible plan.”
Some scholars have written that the story of the Three Kings comes from Armenian tradition. It is from Armenian stories that the three men are identifies as Balthsar of Arabia, Melchor of Persia and Gaspar of India.
The identification of the three kings or three Magi gives a universal aspect for Christmas. It is believed that they journeyed following the Star of Bethlehem which is now in either Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Yemen.