One of the most important and memorable celebrations of my childhood in Mexico was January 6, the Epiphany of the Lord. Of course, back then, I did not know that’s what it was called. All I knew was that on the evening of January 5, I would run around town and go to the houses of my grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, and of course, my parents, and leave a shoe so that the wise men would come and remember to leave me a gift. It was Día de los Reyes, the happiest day for a young boy who only got toys once a year. Even now, I can still close my eyes and see myself, my brothers, my sisters, and every single kid in town running up and down the street with our new toys.
For as long as I can remember, it has been the tradition that at midnight on January 6, the wise men who presented Jesus with gifts at his birth 2,000 years ago would come back to visit every child in town, leaving them gifts too. On the evening of January 5, there was a procession with three men riding horses, dressed as the magi. This procession would go around the entire town and end at the town’s parish with a solemn celebration of the Eucharist. As a child I only cared about celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord because I got toys. I did not yet understand its theological importance. As an adult, I now know that this celebration means far more than just the gifts, the men dressed as the magi, and the procession through the town.
Now I know that, 2,000 years ago, God manifested himself by entering the human family, drawing near to us in Jesus. The Incarnation and the birth of Jesus changed the entire course of human history, and the visit of the magi to the Holy Family has many lessons to teach all of us. First, it reminds us that all nations are called to come and adore Jesus. We know from Sacred Scripture that the magi came from different nations. This teaches us that the nations of the world and the people of those nations need to be united and not fighting against each other. Jesus is the only one who can unite every nation on earth, who can reconcile people to one another and bring healing. He is the answer to all our questions and to every problem in society.
We are also told in Scripture that the magi followed a star, but they made the mistake of going to Herod’s palace where an earthly king ruled, instead of continuing to follow the star to the manger, where the King of heaven waited for them. Their detour to Herod’s palace caused a tragedy. Herod was filled with envy, jealousy, and fear at the thought of another king being born. He ordered the magi to report back when they found the newborn king. When they did not return, he attempted to eliminate the threat to his crown, ordering his soldiers to kill many innocent young boys. This teaches us that we always need to keep our eyes on heavenly things and not earthly things, for these will lead us to Jesus.
This is the reason why the wise men were amazed to find Jesus in a manger and offered him gifts of gold for a king, incense for God, and myrrh for the Christ. The magi’s recognition of Jesus as God and the gifts they brought him teach us that we are to offer Jesus all we have in recognition that all we are and have comes from God to begin with. This year has been a very difficult year for many people who are suffering the physical, emotional, mental, and economical effects of this pandemic, and it is a great opportunity to offer them our gifts of kindness, love, and assistance.
For these and many other reasons, el Día de los Reyes is one of my favorite feast days. Its traditional celebrations gave me much happiness when I was a child and now, as an adult, its spiritual lessons are a fountain of living water in my life of faith.
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Featured image: Los Tres Reyes by Juana Díaz, courtesy of Francisco Y. Ferrer Hernández; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.