In Latin American cultures, like that practiced on the island of Puerto Rico, my family’s home, Dia de los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) carries greater significance than Christmas. The reason, however, differs from the Eastern Orthodox celebration on that day. For them, the baptism of Jesus is the historical event of significance, not the visit of the three Magi. Both traditions, therefore, celebrate two distinct moments in the life of Jesus occurring, traditionally, on the same day- January 6th.
As much as I tried to convince my family (wife and children) to shift our celebrations from the 24th/ 25th of December to the 6th of January, I have only met failure. Like so many other families that have migrated to the US, customs and traditions from the place of origin undergo a metamorphosis. In the worst case, it disappears; supplanted by the commercial juggernaut of Christmas in the United States.
My children and wife are Christian in practice and belief, while I am Muslim. The importance of Jesus in our respective faiths, while differing in substance and details, is a point of convergence. While I know that these historical/ religious events are significant, I’m afraid that the next and future generations will not. I believe that the traditional birthdate of Jesus and the visit by the Magi are completely overwhelmed by our commercialism. This is a fight that will last the rest of my life.
Epiphany 2014: Dates, Customs, Scripture And History Of ‘Three Kings Day’ Explained (PHOTOS)
The Feast of the Epiphany, marking the end of the 12 Days of Christmas and the new season of Epiphany, is observed on Monday, January 6, 2014.
Epiphany — which is variously known as Theophany, Three Kings Day and El Dia de los Tres Reyes — is a Christian celebration of the revelation of the birth of Jesus to the wider world. This is embodied most in the story of three wise men visiting a newborn Jesus with gifts, found in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12.
In this story, Magi (wise men) from the east follow a star to Jerusalem, where they ask the presiding king, Herod, what he knows about a newly born “King of the Jews.” This sounds like a challenge to Herod, who gathers his priests to learn where and who is this king. They relay a prophecy that Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, and Herod sends the Magi there, saying: “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” The wise men — Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar — eventually find Mary and her son, Jesus, to whom they bow and worship. The Magi give Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and then return home, for a dream told them to bypass Herod.
While Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity focuses on the story of the Magi, Eastern Christians, like the Greek Orthodox, celebrate the baptism of Jesus on Epiphany and consider the day to be more important than Christmas.
Traditionally, Epiphany is observed by blessing the home (recalling the Magi’s visit to Jesus’ family), blessing water (especially the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized), exchanging gifts, performing “Magi plays” (to tell the story of Jesus’ childhood) and feasting, most notably on a “King Cake.”
Read or listen to T.S. Eliot’s poem Journey of the Magi here.