1. The Three Kings: Their names are as uncertain as their number. But since the Bible mentions three gifts (Mathew 2:11) the assumption was that three Magi came “from the East” to worship the “King of the Jews” in Bethlehem of Judea. In later Christian writings the Magi became “kings” and tradition tells that Melchior, the oldest, was King of Persia; Balthazar, middleaged, was King of Arabia; and Caspar, the youngest, was King of India. However some theories say that the Magi came from Persia, that they were part of the Parthian Empire —a rival of the Roman Empire—, and that they were Priests or Counselors of kings. A recent theory indicates that the Wise Men could have been “great sages of India.” Whatever their background, the Magi paid close attention to the stars —astrology was regarded as a science at that tiem— and they were aware of the prophecies of Daniel regarding the coming of the Messiah. Following astronomical signs, the Magi started a journey of faith.
2. The Gifts: “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” (Mathew —King James translation). There are many theories about the meaning and symbolism of the gifts. This is one: Gold symbolizes acceptance of the newborn as King. Frankincense (an incense) is given to a High Priest, it is a symbol of deity. Myrrh (an oil used to make medicines) is the acceptance of the newborn as a healer but also as one who is mortal. At the moment of the offerings, The Magi are described as “kneeling” in the worship of Jesus. Kneeling has remained for over 2.000 years an important way of Christian worship to this day.
3. Hispanic traditions: The Hispanic world celebrates the Magi, January 6, following the twelve days of Christmas. The Three Kings —known as “Los Reyes Magos de Oriente,” “Los Tres Reyes Magos,” or “Los Reyes Magos”— receive letters from children who tell them about themselves and their behaviour before requesting a list of presents. The gifts arrive the night of January 5, before Epiphany which means “manifestation” when Christians celebrate the revelation of God the Son as a human being —the visit of the Magi is Jesus’ physical manifestation to the world. In some traditions —as in Spain— the Magi represent the known world of the time: Melchior is Europe, Caspar is Asia, and Balthazar is Africa. They come riding their camels from the “Orient” —the East— and visit the houses of all the children the night of January 5. It is traditional that children leave by the door or a window or under the Christmas tree some food for the “Reyes” and their camels. Spanish cities organize the Three Kings Parade in which the kings and their helpers throw sweets to the chidren and families in attendance. January 6 in the morning it is the moment to open presents and eat “el roscón” in Spain or “la rosca de reyes” in Mexico.
4.Mystery of the Magi: Christian Scriptures record nothing about the Magi after reporting their going back to their countries of origin. Some traditions tell the story of their conversion to Christianity and how they died as martyrs. A Medieval tradition tells that the Three Wise Men lived long lives: Melchior died on the 1st of January, aged 116; Balthazar on the 6th of January, aged 112; and Caspar on the 11th of January, aged 109. Now where their tombs are located is also full of mystery. Marco Polo claimed in his writings that he was shown the three tombs of the Magi at Saba, south of Tehran, in the 1270s. Marco Polo describes “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.” A modern tradition locates the remains of the Magi in the cathedral of Cologne, Germany. The Shrine of the Three Wise Men is also known as Dreikoenigenkirche (The Church of the Three Kings). Presently, there is an urn at the Cathedral of Milan, Italy, allegedly containing the relics of the Three Magi.
5. Revelation of the Magi: Brent Landau —a scholar in religious studies from the University of Oklahoma— found at the Vatican Library in Rome an 8th century manuscript which tells this story about the Magi: 1. They came from Shir, in ancient China. 2. The document claims that many men visited baby Jesus, rather tan just three. 3. The Wise Men are described as descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam. 4. The Magi believed that the star meant that God had arrived in human form. After publishing “Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem”, Landau wrote in The Huffington Post in 2012: “Perhaps the key watchword of Advent is “mystery,” a belief that God is at work in the world, but a realization that God’s work is ultimately beyond human comprehension. In fact, one early Christian theologian says that the coming of Christ into the world is one of the great mysteries of the faith — and the birth of a child, any child, is indeed an event filled with awe, hope, and mystery.”