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12 Dec 2017 | Estimated reading time: 5 minutes |
Wise Men

All about the Three Wise Men

All about the Three Wise Men

Letter to the Wise Men, Religious History, Parade, Gifts, Crafts, Memes and much more...

In this article, all your questions will be solved: Who are the kings? How many are there? Why are they called Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar? What gifts do they give? When is Three Kings Day? How is it celebrated? What must you do in order for them to bring gifts? Where is it celebrated? And many other questions are answers below.

You will also find ideas on making crafts to decorate the house or Christmas tree with, as well as resources to write a letter to the Three Kings. Also, we show you gags, jokes and memes about the kings, as well as some charities that have been developed for this festive occasion. In the last section we explain how adults and children understand these magic characters.

If you want to experience this celebration first hand we encourage you to visit Barcelona and stay in one of our holiday apartments ;)

The Three Kings

Who are the Three Kings?

The origin of it all comes from the Bible. In the second chapter, verse 1-12 from the Gospel of St. Matthew says that several ‘Magi’ were following a star until they reached Bethlehem. The Gospel does not specify how many Magi there were, nor their names or if they were kings. The theory is that the kings probably represent wise men or astronomers.

Born, then, Jesus in Bethlehem of Judah in the days of King Herod, wise men came from the East to Jerusalem saying: «Where is the king of the Jews that has just been born?»  The Gospel of Matthew (2, 1-2)
Why Three Kings?

St. Matthew only speaks about “wise men” but does not talk about “kings”. The name “kings” was established in the 3rd century. They were called “kings” because they were always represented as wealthy people who brought valuable gifts.

Gospel according to Matthew
Gospel according to Matthew: origin of the Three Kings

How many Wise Men?

The Gospel did not indicate the number of Wise Men, nor their races. It was in the 5th century when Pope Leo I officially decided the number of Wise Men. He decided that they would be three, one for each gift offered to Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The number could also be due to the relation that it has with the Holy Trinity. In Armenia, the Eastern Christian tradition believes that there were twelve Magi and assign them twelve different names!

Fourth Wise Man?

A Russian legend says that there were four Wise Men that followed the star in the east with their gifts. The first three brought gold, frankincense and myrrh… and the fourth wise man brought wine and oil on his donkey.

In 1896, Henry van Dyke wrote a Christmas story called “The Other Wise Man” which inspired the Russian legend. In this story, Artabán was the fourth Wise Man who brought precious stones as gifts: a diamond, a ruby and a pearl. But in his journey he found many people who needed his help and therefore got rid of his gifts. When Artabán met Jesus who had already been crucified, he had no gifts for him. But the Messiah replied:

“What you did for your brothers, you did for me” and therefore Artabán went to the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The fourth Wise Man
The image shows the fourth Wise Man

Why are the Wise Men called Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar?

The names of the Wise Men were documented in a Byzantine mosaic for the first time in the 6th century of the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (Italy). In it the names “Melchior”, “Caspar” and “Balthazar” are inscribed. Let’s see what the origins of these names are:

  • Melchior: this name is of Hebrew origin and comes from the word “malki-or” which means “King of Light”. It represents the divinity.
  • Caspar: it is attributed to the Hebrew origin “ghaz” which means “to manage, as Persian origin with the name “kansbar” which means in ancient Persian “treasurer”. It represents the management of goodness.
  • Balthazar: from the Assyrian empire, the words “Belio-šarru-usur” which means “God protects the King” represents protection.
Who is Melchior of the Wise Men?

He is the old king of long hair and a white beard. Melchior embodies the Church for the Europeans. Melchior is the king who comes first.

Who is Balthazar of the Wise Men?

He is the black king, the king most loved by children. The dark-skinned king is African. He goes second, after Melchior.

Who is Caspar of the Wise Men?

He is the youngest, blonde king who according to the Church embodies the Asians. Caspar comes third.

The Magi on the Sagrada Familia
Sculptures of the Three Kings on the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

What do the Wise Men take?

The Bible does not specify the names and the number of men but it does specify the gifts that they bring:

And upon entering the house, they see the boy with his mother Mary, and kneeling, worshipped him; and opening their treasures, they offered gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Gospel of Matthew 2, 11

Why do the Wise Men give Jesus gold, incense and myrrh? These three gifts have important symbolic meaning:

  • Gold: Jesus was considered the “King of the Kings” and also in the antiquity of gold, it was the gift destined to monarchs and high dignitaries.
  • Frankincense: Jesus was the son of God and the divinities are honoured by burning incense at altars in places of worship.
  • Myrrh: Jesus was also a man of flesh and blood and as such he also had to die. Myrrh is a resin used to anoint the deceased body.
Which Wise Man brought gold?

It is common to believe that the order of gifts is the same as the order with which we name the Kings, but it is not so. In fact, it was Balthazar who honoured Jesus with the precious metal.

Which Wise Man brought frankincense?

It was Caspar who brought frankincense.

Which Wise Man brought myrrh?

Melchior, the first Wise Man, brought the last gift.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
The gifts: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
When did the Wise Men arrive in Bethlehem?

The Wise Men arrived to see Jesus following a star in the sky from Babylon or Persia. During the first centuries of Christianity, this day is celebrated on 6 January: the birth of Jesus (Christmas) and the arrival of the Kings. In the fourth century, it was decided to celebrate the two festivities separately. It was decided that the arrival of the Kings was 12 days after the birth of Jesus. Number 12 is the number claimed by the Catholic Church.

Where is the King of the Jews that has been born? Because we have seen the star in the east and we come to worship him. The Gospel of Matthew 2, 2

Just as they did with Jesus, his Majesties leave gifts every year in children’s homes, making their dreams come true.

Where are the Wise Men now?

Nobody knows where the Three Kings are now. Surely they have to work all year so that on 6 January all the children find presents in their houses. Because of this, the Three Kings are probably in their house, working with coal and talking to Santa Clause about the children who are behaving badly.

Where are the Wise Men buried?

One of the most interesting travellers in the world was Marco Polo. In his travel book, it says that he visited the tombs of the Three Kings in the 13th century in the city of Sava (Iran). He described the three graves as large square houses with rounded tops. By the description, they are probably tombs of Zoroastrian priests. Today in Sava, that on the maps of the current Republic of Iran is known as Saveh, there is no trace of such ancient burials.

The Empress Elena, mother of Constantine, was passionate for relics and on her first pilgrimage to the Holy Land obtained the remains of the Kings. These were buried in the church of Hagia Sofia of Constantinopla (now Istanbul) but her son decided to give the relics to the ambassador of Milan. They were in Italy until 1164 when another emperor, Federico Barbarroja, destroyed the city, taking the remains to Cologne. The Cathedral of Cologne is a monumental building that was constructed to contain the most important relics in the world.

Relics of the Three Kings
Three Kings in Cologne

About the adoration for the Wise Men

When is the day of the Three Kings?

The day of the Three Kings, also called the Catholic Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January and is as important as Christmas for all Spanish children. The Three Kings leave gifts in their houses.

The Catholic Epiphany has lost its religious significance because of this materialistic tradition, but unlike to the rest of the Catholic European countries, Spain follows the original Catholic tradition of the Kings.

Santa Clause is a legend in other religions but today also forms part of the traditions in Catholic countries. In Spain, most children receive gifts in two parts during the Christmas holidays.

How is the the day of the Wise Men celebrated?

The day of the Three Kings is celebrated with two traditions:

  • The Kings Parade organised in Spain on 5 January. A parade full of trucks, music and dance… and with the Three Kings!
Parade for the Three Kings
Kings Parade in Barcelona: the Wise Men
  • Roscón de reyes is a ring-shaped cake and a typical dessert. It has two surprises inside: a tiny king and a bean. It is customary to cut the cake in as many parts as there are people at the table. Whoever is lucky enough to find the first gift will be treated like a king all day long and can wear the crown that comes with the cake. The unfortunate one who finds the bean will have to buy the dessert the following year!

If you make the Roscón de Reyes at home, don’t forget the most important thing. Roscón doesn’t exist without a crown! Here are two original ideas for making the crown: a simple one and a more modern one.

The Roscón de Reyes
The Roscón de Reyes

What needs to be done in order to the Wise Men to bring gifts?

Before going to sleep on 5 January, the children leave their slippers close to a door or window with some sweets to honour the Kings and straw and water to feed their camels. The following day they discover that their slippers have been emptied and their wishes granted.

The children that have behaved badly throughout the year receive sweet coal, although the children who have behaved well also receive it so they remain good in the new year.

The Kings have arrived!
Slippers near the window
Why do the Kings bring coal?

The legend says that the coal is the ashes of the frankincense and myrrh that the Kings gave to Jesus, but there is another legend about a character who appears at Christmas and works together with the Kings and Santa Clause. Carbonilla is the one who watches the children during the year to find out whether they have been good and bad and he is the one who brings the sweet coal.

If you know a child who has behaved badly, here is the sweet coal recipe.

Sweet coal
Sweet coal

Where are the Wise Men celebrated?

In Barcelona, the day of the Kings is an unmissable event. You have to see it at least once in your life. The ‘Cabalgata de los Reyes’ (The Kings Parade) in this city is one of the biggest and most beautiful in Spain. The event starts late on 5 January close to the docks, where the Kings arrive with the ship of St. Eulalia. Discover what the parade is like in this city in this article ;) 

Three Kings Day is celebrated in countries with Hispanic cultures such as Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia and Venezuela. In the European continent, the day of the Kings is celebrated in Spain and some parts of France, Italy and Portugal.

There are some differences between the celebrations in these countries:

  • Mexico: they eat the “Roscón de Reyes” or “Rosca de Reyes” on the night of 5 January. Whoever finds the doll inside will have to buy the food on the day of Candlemas (2 February).
  • Puerto Rico: normally the children run through the park picking up grass to put in a shoebox under the bed. By the this, the Kings camels can eat and the following morning, the children will gifts in its place.
  • Argentina: the children put their letter to the Kings in their slippers on the night of 5 January.
  • Paraguay: they celebrate the Pascua de los Negros (Holy Day of the Blackmen), a tradition that was born during the colonisation. On this day, the slaves left to dance the rhythm of the tambourines on the streets. Today, they organise music festivals full of colour and fun.

Original ways to celebrate the Three Kings Day?

The day of the Kings can be celebrated another way. Here are 3 original ways to celebrate the day of the Three Kings. How do you celebrate this day? Tell us at the end of this article.

Letter to the Three Kings

It is always a good idea to do a manual activity with children. All the children write a letter to Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar with their wishes and their achievements. Here you can search for the letter that your child would prefer and download it this year, and they will come!

Three Kings letter to print for free

After writing the letter, you can do something even more magical with the children. Here's a video generator for the Three Kings. Your children will help you!

Crafts to celebrate the day of the Kings

There are many ways to make the day with children unique: painting, drawing, colouring… most importantly spending time with family. To begin with, we suggest you consult this Pinterest link where you will see lots of photos that will give you good ideas about decorating your house.

Kings to colour

Here is a link for small children, so they can also help with decorating the house by colouring the Three Wise Men.

How to make Wise Men with recyclable material?

Working with recyclable material is cheap and easy for children. The easiest and least dangerous way to work for children are paper rolls but you also have the option to use plastic or glass bottles. Take a look a these two videos that will teach you how to use these materials.

How to make Wise Men with clay, felt or fabric?

You can also decorate your house with unique decorations and originals if you are a talented craftsman. Look at some of the most original ideas with felt and clay.

Gags and jokes about the Wise Men

After the gifts, the parade and the food, its time for gags and jokes! There is nothing better than telling jokes about the Three Wise Men and seeing your family and friends cry with laughter.

You can also send original greetings to your friends with memes about the Kings. Do you want to create your own meme? Here you can!

Meme about the Three Kings

Three Wise Men meme

Charities

This is not a day of love and happiness for everyone. On 6 January you can explain to your children that they can receive less gifts and give them to those who need them more. You can make a child happier thanks to an initiative called Reyes Magos de Verdad. The most authentic way of spending this day is helping others.

The Wise Men according to parents and children

When the Christmas holidays arrive, children and parents start to ask lots of questions about the Wise Men. Especially if the children are growing up… Do you know which ones are true? ;-)

Children Parents
Are the Wise Men Parents? How can the Wise Men be explained?
Why are the Wise Men popes? Why do we believe in the Wise Men?
What shall I ask from the Wise Men? What shall I give from the Wise Men?

If you are a parent, this surely sounds familiar. If you need help, here you can find a letter from the Wise Men explaining that they are parents.

The topic of the Wise Men is as important for children as it is for parents. Often the two don’t want to do damage and follow tradition. If you are a child or a parent, you have to know that there are no correct answers to these questions. To get answer, you have to ask the person concerned!

Have a happy Three Kings Day
Happy Three Kings Day

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