Hello, and welcome to Day 16 of the “25 Days of Holiday Song”. Today’s post features Sarah, who runs her own blog These Good Old Days. Sarah writes in her guest post reflects on the idea of Christmas presents with a traditional American Christmas carol “We Three Kings”. It is a fantastic read, and you will enjoy it as well.
We Three Kings of Orient Are
The season of giving is upon us – as an endless stream of TV commercials reminds me. We are reminded to buy buy buy for everyone on our list – no relation is too remote, and no present is too expensive. Sometimes it makes me want to give upon celebrating Christmas. However, even the first Christmas had gifts – expensive ones, too! While the commercialism we experience this time of year may be over the top, there’s no way to untangle it from traditional celebrations of Christmas.
Why? One word: Magi. This word can send a shiver of awe and mystery up my spine. We know very little about the wise men, except that they followed a star from the east to come visit the baby Jesus bringing three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We don’t know when they arrived – it was unlikely they were there that first Christmas night, despite what most nativity scenes depict. We don’t even know how many of them came. However, they have become an integral part of the Christmas tradition.
An Impactful Carol
What people know about the wise men, other than the very little stated in the Bible, has likely come from the popular Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are” by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. The first verse, most commonly played, is as follows:
“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.”
Perhaps the greatest influence this song has had on Christmas is that it solidified in popular culture that there “were” three wise men. Tradition has named them Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar. However, the Bible never actually mentions the number of wise men, only the number of gifts.
Focus on the Gifts
And speaking of the gifts, the additional verses of the song go on to describe the gifts that the wise men brought to the manger, including why they were chosen. The first gift, gold, is brought to honor a king whose reign will never end. Frankincense is brought in order to give worship to a deity. Finally, myrrh is offered as a bitter perfume, to be used to wrap the body of Jesus after his crucifixion. The song was originally written for a Christmas pageant, and one king was supposed to sing each verse. I wish more renditions of the song followed that format – I love the flair for the dramatic!
Rethink the Holiday Season
My favorite rendition of the song is by Mannheim Steamroller – consequently my favorite rendition of most Christmas songs is by them. I love how they capture a sense of the mysterious near east and also something of the medieval, bringing together the story of the wise men with the time in history when it was most likely to be appreciated. While the world is telling me to go out and buy more presents, while Santa and his elves are taking center stage, I prefer to think about those historical gift givers. Listening to the song, I imagine them slowly plodding through the desert on their camels, continually looking for direction into a star-speckled sky. They are on a journey of faith, hope, and discovery.
As you rush about this holiday season, bogged down by the commercialism, keep the three kings in mind. Look for ways to carry on their tradition by being generous to the poor and humble who need it most. Give with a cheerful heart. And have a Merry Christmas!