Thursday, January 6, 2011

I'm Having an Epiphany

Epiphany is typically celebrated on January 6 and commemorates the visit of the three Magi to the baby Jesus. Eastern churches may use a different calendar and celebrate Epiphany on or near January 19. To them, Epiphany is a commemoration of the baptism of Jesus. The word "epiphany" derives from a root meaning "appearance." So it's like when the Son of God made himself known to the world.

I used to think January 6 was the Twelfth Day of Christmas; however, if you count, you'll see that it's really the thirteenth.

In Ireland, they sometimes call it Little Christmas because it was the date of Christmas under a different calendar. On January 6, you may safely take down your Christmas tree. If you did so before now, you've got bad luck.

The Irish may also refer to it as Women's Christmas. Traditionally, the menfolk take over the household chores on this day, while the women get together with friends and have a girl's night out.

I'm pretty sure I got the earrings shown in the photo on a trip to New Orleans and that they are meant for Mardi Gras. I think this is the third pair of crown earrings I've owned, but the other two broke. I also have several crown brooches. The reason I choose to wear these on Epiphany is, you know, crowns symbolize the Three Kings. The problem is, they probably weren't really kings, and there may not have been three of them.

The Gospel of Matthew simply says that "magi" came "from the east" and were following a star they believed would lead them to the future king of the Jews. (They were not originally looking for the messiah, but a king.) People have always just presumed there were three of them because they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

You might have heard their names: Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar. These names appeared in a Greek manuscript 500 years after the birth of Jesus. But the Syrians think their names are Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas. The Ethiopians have Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater. The Armenians, Kagpha, Badadakharida, and Badadilma.

The word "magus" is part of the problem. It was used by Greeks to refer to a follower of Zoroaster, or to a practitioner of things they thought were associated with Zoroastrianism. So a magus could have been a member of the priest caste to which Zoroaster was born, it could have been an actual priest/astrologer from Persia, or it could have meant a charlatan (magician) or something like that. The King James version of the Bible translated the word to "wise men" when referring to the visitors from the east, but the same word is translated as "sorcerer" when describing two heretical characters elsewhere in the KJV.

It may be that people began to refer to them as kings because the same three gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) were given by another king (of Syria) at a temple to worship the god Apollo. In other words, it was apparently a kingly thing to do to worship a god by offering these gifts. Incidentally, frankincense was like a perfume, and myrrh was often used as an anointing or embalming oil. The purpose of gold is pretty obvious.

So, my earrings may be a very poor choice for today, as I'm not even sure if there's any real gold in them, and the Magi may not be kings at all, but rather astrologers. Maybe I should just wear stars! I've had an epiphany!


  1. The stories behind your earrings are getting rather complex!

  2. Don't fashion and education always go together?