Tomorrow is Three Kings Day, Epiphany, and also called Twelfth Night (Shakespeare’s play was commissioned to be performed on Epiphany Eve). In Christian mythology, it celebrates the visit of three kings, “wise men” or wizards (Magi) to see the infant Jesus.
The three kings had traveled quite a way, the story goes, from distant lands. They didn’t look like the people around Galilee, and they probably didn’t even speak a language Mary or Joseph understood. It must have been disconcerting for the new parents, presumably still hanging out in the stable waiting for a hotel room to become available, to have three richly dressed, kingly guys show up in the front yard with gifts that just weren’t that useful (well, except for the gold). It’s likely that back in the home of the three wise men, there was a wise woman who said, “Here, take some diapers, some flatbread and fruit, and maybe a nice scented candle for the mom. It’s been a week; she’s sleep deprived, exhausted and could do with something nice.” Because the Bible was written by men, she didn’t make it into the story.
The gifts the wise men brought, while not very useful to a working-class family stuck in a stable, had a special meaning to the readers of the original story. The kings – or wise men – brought gifts that were suitable for a prince. That was the point.
It still had to be a shock.
My group of writer friends from the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, who call ourselves the Benicia Crew, chose the Feast of the Epiphany as a starting line to each initiate some new aspect of our writing. Partly, our choice of days was pragmatic. While January 1 is very popular for changes, beginnings and new projects, it’s still a holiday, and the family aspect of the holiday seem to make it more stressful than encouraging. Epiphany is observed but not celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant sects. This takes away some of the pressure. Symbolically, though, it’s a good day to be open and accepting of gifts, even if they come from people or directions that are foreign to you.
The other side of the Epiphany story is that of the kings themselves. The “followed a star,” it’s said, conjuring up the famous image of three guys on camels with a comet-looking thing in the eastern sky. It may have been a comet. It may have been an astrological chart that predicted the birth of this astonishing child. The kings left their kingdoms and rode east, and while there may have been detours, roads washed out, flooding, wars and other disappointments, they held firm to their resolve and were guided by their star.
For me, as I get ready to acknowledge the power of the Epiphany, I open my mind to whatever gifts come my way, and I resolve to hold firm and follow my path, no matter the disappointments. Last week, a market I had been counting on for a story I’m in the midst of writing announced they were closing to submissions. It’d be awfully damn easy to just turn this camel around and go home; but I won’t. I’m keeping on. I’m following my star. And I’m staying open, and grateful, for the gifts.