As many of you know, Bob and I have five grandchildren living in Italy. One of our grandchildren, the youngest, Madelyn, is in an Italian elementary school. In fact, when her older brothers and sisters went back to the American school this week after the U.S. New Year's Federal holiday, little Maddie remained at home with the entire week off!
Italy celebrates January 6th as a Holy Day of Obligation as do a number of other European countries. It also celebrates it as a holiday with a gift-giving aspect to it, mainly for children. The story of La Befana, the cranky old woman, who the Magi asked for directions to Bethlehem in order to find the Christ Child is a legend the Italians retell and celebrate over and over again. As the story goes, La Befana refused to help the Magi but later regretted her decision. She decides to look for the Christ Child herself. She scoops up sweet treats she had made earlier in the day and goes out looking for Him, but to no avail. As she searches, she leaves her sweet treats with all the children she encounters, hoping that one of them will be the Infant Christ.
January 6 in Italy has a folk flavor to it, and you can read more about it here: January 6 - La Befana And yes, January 6th is a holy day of obligation, a national holiday and many Italian school children have been off from school all week!
In the United States, Sunday, January 8, 2023, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the manifestation of the Divine Child to the Magi, is celebrated. It is the feast that acknowledges that the Christ Child came as the Savior not only for the faithful of Israel, but for all mankind. To the right is a picture of the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, which houses the gilded sarcophagus, a reliquary. believed to contain the bones of the Three Kings. Pilgrims come from all over the world to venerate these relics.
You can read more here: Relics of Three Kings? Whether the reliquary contains the bones of the Magi or others, the solemn feast proclaims a great truth of our Catholic faith. Christ, the Divine King, came for all men and women. The reliquary offers us a concrete reminder that the Magi did exist, and they were deeply inspired to follow the star from their homeland to the homeland of the Jews. The challenges of this journey and the hardships that each Magi encountered may remain in part unknown. What we do know is they appeared in the court of Herod the Great, and asked him where the newborn king of the Jews was to be found.
The Magi may be admired for their energy and determination to continue the search. After meeting with Herod, the chief priests, and the scribes who pointed them in the direction of Bethlehem, they journeyed on. They were honest men who after finding the star again followed it to the Christ Child, worshiped Him, and gave the Divine Child gifts. They received a message in a dream that directed them to return to their homeland by another route which they did.
We do not know who these Magi were. The information we have is found in the Gospel of Matthew 2: 1-14. It is probably the Blessed Mother who recounted this event to St. Matthew. As we enter into the New Year of 2023, let us turn to the Magi in prayer asking them to inspire and strengthen us in our journey to deepen our relationship with the Divine King. May we celebrate this great feast of the Epiphany which has been passed down to us through the centuries with a beautiful liturgy, music, and food.
Here is a children's retelling of The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie dePaola. You can find it in your favorite Catholic bookstore, online Catholic publishers, or amazon.