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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: January 3, 2020
The wise men from the East followed the star of Bethlehem until it led them to the newborn king, Jesus Christ. They prostrated themselves and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-12) Among Western Christians, tradition holds the names of the wise men to be Casper, Melchior and Balthasar. They are regarded as saints and their relics are enshrined in the cathedral at Cologne, Germany.
We assume there were three because they presented three gifts and the belief they were kings riding camels comes from two Old Testament prophecies:
“May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts. May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him. (Psalm 72:10-11) and (Isaiah 60:1-6), which is the first reading on the feast of the epiphany. "Caravans of camels shall cover you, .... All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense and heralding the praises of the Lord."
Learn about the significance of the gifts of the magi by reading Bishop Anthony B. Taylor's 2017 homily on the feast of the epiphany.
We celebrate the visit of the magi on the feast of the epiphany. It is traditionally observed on Jan. 6, but in the United States it is held on the Sunday between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8. It concludes the 12 Days of Christmas, but the season of Christmas continues until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The word "epiphany" comes from the Greek "manifestation." The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that in the epiphany, Jesus was revealed as the "Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world."
"The magi's coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The epiphany shows that 'the full number of the nations' now takes its 'place in the family of the patriarchs.' and acquires 'Israelitica dignitas' (is made 'worthy of the heritage of Israel')." (no. 528)
There are many ways to celebrate the feast of the epiphany at home. The most common is setting up the magi in different rooms of your home as if to be traveling until they arrive at the manger to pay homage to Jesus. In Spain, children leave their shoes out the night before for the kings to deposit gifts. A similar event is celebrated in Mexico. In France, people enjoy "galette des rois," a pastry with a small king embedded inside. "Whoever gets him is king or queen for the evening, wears a golden paper crown and chooses the first game to be played." In the United States this takes the form of a king cake and is most popularly eaten on Mardi Gras. Other options include having an epiphany party or blessing your home. And these resources focus on making it fun for children: Catholic Epiphany Home Blessing and Six Family Traditions for Epiphany.