Three Kings Day: why is it celebrated on January 6 and what is its origin?
Santo Domingo—The history behind this date that closes this Friday is the holiday calendar and where children expect gifts.
This Friday’s Three Kings Day is the last date of the summer holiday calendar, after Christmas and New Year’s Day. According to tradition, on the night of January 5, kids have to leave water and grass in containers next to their shoes and expect to find presents in the same place on the morning of January 6.
According to legend, Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar travel during the early morning hours to visit boys and girls worldwide and bring them joy with toys of all kinds. But what is the origin of Three Kings Day, and why is it celebrated on January 6?
What is the origin of Three Kings Day?
The Day of the Magi is a celebration included in the calendar of the Catholic Church that is based on the story told in the Gospel of St. Matthew of the New Testament, when Jesus, a newborn baby, was visited by wise men from the East in Bethlehem of Judea. There, it is said that the magi followed a star that helped them find the future King of the Jews and Israel under the orders of King Herod.
The monarch wanted to secure his power on the throne and eliminate anyone who might threaten his reign. But the magi, upon arriving and seeing the newborn baby Jesus with the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, worshipped him and offered him gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). This is what gives origin to the Day of the Magi.
Then, according to the gospel, they received in their dreams the warning not to return to the monarch, and they kept their whereabouts secret. They returned to their homeland by a different route. And Mary and Joseph went with Jesus to Egypt.
Then, unable to find the child, King Herod’s fury was immense, and he ordered the slaughter of all the children under two years of age in Bethlehem of Judea. This is what has also given rise to the Day of the Innocents (about the innocent children killed), which is celebrated on December 28. It should be noted that, in any case, this holiday does not coincide with the chronological order in which the events would have happened, according to the Gospel of Matthew.
What does the Bible say about the Magi?
The only place in the Bible where the story that gives rise to the Day of the Magi is mentioned is in the Gospel of Matthew. In verse 2, it says: “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the King of the Jews who has just been born? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him.
When King Herod heard this, he and all Jerusalem were astonished. So he called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people to ask them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,’ they answered him, ‘for thus it is written by the Prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are certainly not the least among the chief cities of Judah, for out of you shall come forth a leader who will be the Shepherd of my people, Israel.”
“Herod sent for the Magi secretly, and after ascertaining precisely the date on which the star had appeared, he sent them to Bethlehem, saying to them, ‘Go and inquire carefully about the child, and when you have found him, let me know so that I may also come and pay him homage.’
After hearing the King, they departed,” says the sacred text, and continues: “The star they had seen in the East preceded them until it stopped at the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy, and when they entered the house, they found the child with Mary, his mother, and falling down, they paid him homage. Then, opening their coffers, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod’s palace, they returned to their own country in another way.”
Why are they called Magi?
As we can see, the Gospel of Matthew says nothing about “kings.” It only mentions the “wise men from the East.” This does not refer to people with the ability to do magic or sorcery but to scholars of different subjects, such as the behavior of the stars in the sky. These people were called “magicians”.
Likewise, the sacred text does not say how many magi visited Jesus, their names, or where they came from. However, the popular tradition was responsible for rescuing some clues in other historical documents. For example, the names of the kings appeared for the first time in the mosaic of San Apollinaire Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. There, it is specified that those who visited Jesus and made offerings to him were Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.
On the other hand, another document sheds light on their origin and their category of “kings.” According to the “Liber Pontificalis,” the compilation of the biographical sketches of the first popes, Melchior is the King of Persia, Balthasar is the King of India, and Gaspar is the King of Arabia.
Why is it celebrated on January 6?
Although the Gospel of Matthew does not specify any particular date, January 6 corresponds to one of the three epiphanies recounted in the Bible, which refer to the first public appearances of Jesus. It is also believed that this day was chosen because, in the past, other pagan cults and traditions celebrated their own gods on this date, such as Dionysus in Greece and Aion or Aeon in Alexandria.