the epiphany of the magi


Most of the so-called “traditional” Christmas practices only date back to the 19th century with many of these customs originating in Germany and Austria.
Even the date of the celebration of Christ’s birth has fluctuated. Until the Roman church adopted December 25 in the 4th century, January 6 was the day of celebration — today’s Epiphany or Heilige Drei Könige (the “Wise Men,” “Three Kings,” the Magi) in German. To this day, the initials of the Three Kings — C+M+B (Caspar/Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) — plus the year are inscribed in chalk on or over doorways in German-speaking countries on or before January 6 to protect house and home. (Although historically the three letters are supposed to come from the Latin phrase for “Christ bless this house” — “Christus mansionem benedicat” — few of the people practicing this custom are aware of this fact.) In many parts of Europe, including Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the Christmas celebration does not end until this date, now considered the arrival of the three “kings of the orient” in Bethlehem — and the end of the “twelve days of Christmas” between Christmas and January 6.


Hieronymus Bosch, The Adoration of the Magi (Oil on panel-Details from Triptych), c. 1485-1500, housed at the Museo del Prado of Madrid in Spain.

Pretty medieval manuscript of the day depicts the adoration of the magi - an appropriate image for today, the Christian feast day of Epiphany.

Today is also twelfth night, and the day Christmas decorations are traditionally put away until next year.

Image source: Walters Museum MS W. 167, ‘the Amherst hours’. Creative Commons licensed via Flickr.