Saturday was the end of the Christmas season as we know it. January 6th is Epiphany, the day we remember the magi visiting the baby Jesus. January 6th is also a big Christmas celebration in other places, including Spanish speaking locales such as Puerto Rico where they celebrate Dias de Los Reyes Magos. Literally “Day of the Magi Kings.” I know about the Puerto Rico celebration best because my parents used to visit Puerto Rico a lot, and they collected Puerto Rican art called, “Santos.”
This is a Santos. Santos are wooden carvings done since the 16th century in Puerto Rico. These carvings were of Jesus, Jesus and Mary, various saints, and the most popular subject of all, “The Three Kings.” Many of the poorer rural villages wouldn’t have access to churches and so these Santos would be aids to worship in private homes. Also slaves wouldn’t have access to the churches. So the Santos would make any place a place of worship.
Why were the Three Kings for Christmas time so popular? Well, when you think of it, these three kings certainly have more biblical significance than the Coca Cola Santa we have adapted over the last century. They are a great symbol for Jesus and the celebration and gift giving. We don’t know much about these kings, but there are stories outside of the Bible that have told of them since the 400’s. By the 800’s they are even given names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.
Look at these kings closely Notice one of the kings is black. This is Balthazar. Whenever the three kings are presented in Santos, Balthazar always holds the prominent position in the middle. With the Afro-Caribbean culture of the slaves and former slaves in Puerto Rico this holds special significance.
This santos is part of my parent’s collection. It was carved by a prominent Santos artist, Jose Ramos, in the 1800’s. Notice Balthazar in the middle.
OK, so who are these kings?
We have the only story about them in Matthew the second chapter. Here is what we know.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’
Who are the magi? The word for them is Magios, which we get our word “Magic” from. They are probably astrologers from near Iraq who study the stars and make predictions, like people who do horoscopes today. They also frequently interpreted dreams. What they are not called is wise men or kings.
What are some faith artifacts that you have to help you focus and aid in telling the good news?