January, named after Janus the Roman god of doorways and begnnings, looking to the past and the future.
January 6 is also known as the visit of the three wise men, the tres magi reges or los tres reyes magos – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who went to Bethlehem at a time based, not only on the light of a star (or comet) but on the Jewish Feast of Lights.
Many Eastern Orthodox churches treat January 6 as the day marking the birth of Christ.
Caspar was thought to be a Persian scholar, Melchior, Babylonian, and Balthasar, Arab. Some Chinese Christians believe one of the Magi came from China.
Various traditions teach that the remains of the Magi are buried at the Shrine of The Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral.
A tradition in Central Europe involves writing the initials of the three kings with the year number split – as in – 20 * C * M * B * 12 – above the main door of the home in chalk, to confer blessings on the occupants for the New Year.
The initials C, M, B also represent "Christus mansionem benedicat," Christ this abode bless.
Most traditions assume there were three Magi, but some eastern authorities believe in twelve Magi. That the men were Kings may have come from Psalm 72:11 – " All kings shall fall down before thee. "
The Gospel of St. Matthew classes them as "Wise men from the east."
Matthew also mentions the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Tradition has it that gold was a symbol of kingship on earth or virtue, frankincense a symbol of priesthood or prayer, and myrrh a symbol of death or suffering.
In my play, The Birth of Christ, which was presented for ten years by my students at Saint Mary's School, Sewanee, Tennessee, the three kings play a key role, with slightly different interpretations of their gifts.
The old Magi are sensitive and prescient in this drama. They speak of the stars in this land as almost black, except for the one that leads them. King Two says, "Never have I seen any star glow with such fire."
King Three: "There is something touching mankind this night that I have never seen before."
They are fairly specific about the gifts they bring. "My greatest treasure, a babe's weight in pure gold. My gold will buy the finest horses in Arabia, outfit such a king with armor wrought by the finest smiths of Persia and a sword of the new metal I have seen in my travel."
"I bear in my hands the magic of all the east, the perfumes and spices of my people, and a light from the fire that has burned in my city for ages long... Our friend can call himself the light of the world – and such a palace he will have... "
King Three brings "a bit of myrrh for suffering. And a rose - for love... this rose will rise above the dust and snow of men's cold hearts to bring springtime ... and when he has touched it, it shall never wither..."
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In 2012 we can build our own futures on the past, add on the gifts of the present and create our own traditions, if we wish. . .
May each of us, whatever our faiths, both give and receive our own personal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in 20 *C * M * B * 12.
Thelma J. Straw