06 Jan2009


“Happy Three Kings” seems like a silly greeting as it shouldn’t focus on the Kings, but on the baby Jesus. And if you had rushed over deserts, mountains and seas with a twelve day deadline then you would have been more harried and exhausted than happy, I would think. Add to that a frantic shopping spree for gold, frankincense and myrrh, and this was holiday stress at its worst. With email, texts, telephones and telegraphs not yet invented, the wise men had to rely on their “pre-visions” or mental telepathy to know the precise birthdate of Jesus. A bright star (forget cloudy evening complications) and cranky camels (where on earth did they keep those in Europe? or did Melchor sail to the Middle East and hop on a camel there?) without a compass and you should really be amazed by their synchronized arrival at a manger in Bethlehem… With some suggesting the Maggi came from Persia or over 1,000 miles away, their camels must have flown to cover the distance in less than two weeks. And what’s with this 1970 change that you can celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany EITHER 12 days after Christmas on the 6th of January OR on the first Sunday after January 1st, which means anywhere from Jan 2 to 8, or 8-14 days of Christmas? :) I jest, of course. Please don’t take offense. Growing up, the Feast of the Epiphany was a pretty big deal in our home. And we put out our biggest shoes the on the evening of the 5th, as well as water and munchies for the camels. For some homes, the major presents were received on this “twelfth day” of Christmas.


My mom always had an incredibly elaborate creche set up in our home, often with lots of bricks and moss and plants and lights and they were the setting for this ceramic set representing the three kings, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, assorted livestock, some Angels, etc. She spent more time on this tableau than on the Christmas tree and I used to spend many a cool December evening observing the display at night time, wondering what presents might appear on the Feast of Three Kings… So imagine my surprise when I got to the office in Cebu last month and the staff had unearthed the original set of ceramic figurines that our family used year after year since the 1950’s or so. So many of the pieces were chipped or broken or damaged after all that time, but as you can see from the photos, enough of the pieces have survived to populate this simple “bahay kubo” set-up on top of a filing cabinet in the office… To this day, The Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated in our home on January 6th, 12 days after Christmas. I hope you got a goody in your shoe today as well. :)

P.S. The King’s shopping guide. Melchor from Europe with gold, self-explanatory. Gaspar from Arabia with franckincense or a type of resin for fragrance or incense. Balthazar from Africa with myrrh, another type of resin, used for fragrance or embalming purposes. Marketman’s modern interpretation: gold (jewelry, inggots, or for one Three Kings celebration, gold foil wrapping a bottle of olive oil!), perfume for the loaded ones, Axe body spray for those on a modest budget, or some incense sticks, will make nice presents with historical relevance… :)



  1. sister says:

    I remember that set, Mom used to set it up inside the fireplace in QC. Yup, we were the only known home in Manila with a brick fireplace aka indoor barbecue except it never worked right because the chimney flue was not properly designed causung an alarming amount of smoke so it was the home of the Three Kings for the holidays.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 2:06 am


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  3. RoBStaR says:

    franckincense & myrrh are also key ingredients in mummification.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 3:24 am

  4. PanchoA says:

    I don’t want to get all theological on you guys, but in a sense, the gold was a gift befitting royalty – appropriate for the King of Kings. Frankincense was a gift for priestly duties, something that was used in the Temple at that time. And myrrh was an indication of the sacrifice of death that had to be made. I have a full discussion in my blog on this.

    But what the heck, Happy Three Kings anyway. We used to celebrate this too!

    Jan 6, 2009 | 6:22 am

  5. fried-neurons says:

    Is frankincense the stuff that they still use during mass in Catholic churches? I love the smell of it, if it’s the same thing.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 6:40 am

  6. Maria Clara says:

    January 6th is Armenian and Eastern Orthodox Christmas Day where they hold a big celebration like our December 25th Christmas Day with all the trimmings, feastings and gift exchanges and as such January 5th is their Christmas Eve.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 7:51 am

  7. Mila says:

    That looks a lot like the creche and figurines we had as kids, my mom loved that set, and we had to be extra careful with it as kids (the grandkids were the ones who ended gnawing on too many of the figurines and poof! adios to the baby jesus). We were told to move the kings closer and closer, but I preferred moving the donkeys and sheep around.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 8:16 am

  8. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    As kids, the feast of the 3 kings meant the end of the Christmas season with one last “hurrah” of getting gifts (toys) from the 3 kings.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 8:24 am

  9. aggy says:

    Same here, MM. My mom was a fan of this holiday/feast/tradition growing up in the Philippines. We would hang our stockings/socks on the stair banister and we would get treats, nothing extravagant, mostly chocolates. Miss this tradition! Di uso dito sa US, but something to keep in mind when I have kids. Btw, are frankincense and myrhh still used during the holiday masses in RP? During Christmas Eve mass and New Year’s eve mass kase dito, it was not used eh. Another thing I miss about home and our traditions :( Hopefully can spend Christmas 2009 there. Thank you for the nice post, brought back nice memories.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 9:35 am

  10. joan says:

    Happy new year MM, and to all readers as well! We’ve never celebrated 3 kings the way you do, and I think we’re missing out on something here! I want my kids to celebrate this so I hope you can fill me in on what to do to make this another day for my children to look forward to (e.g. what the shoes are for, etc.). Thanks!

    Jan 6, 2009 | 9:45 am

  11. bernadette says:

    A Happy Three kings to you MM and family! Personally, I have this fascination with creches! I was once in Germany during the holidays and my hubby and i would visit cathedrals just so to view the nativity scenes. Your family heirloom creche looks quite similar to those highly exquisite statues! And i find your modern man’s way of looking at travelling of yore sooo amusing—hey! i never thought of that! maybe, but not in that wide array of details! :-D Did any of the three kings come from the east?—what about time zones? How did they synchronize their “watches?”

    Jan 6, 2009 | 10:15 am

  12. PanchoA says:

    I’ll stick my neck out for this one. Bernadette, you can visit this post on my Multiply site and get one explanation on this. But don’t stop there. Do your own research on Google and find out more.


    Jan 6, 2009 | 10:21 am

  13. roquedelcastillo says:

    Proponents of modern aromatherapy refer back to the frankincese and myrrh given to Jesus, saying that healing with essential oils dates before Christ.

    And yes, FRIED-NEURONS, the incense used in modern Catholic rites is a from a formula passed down from the ancient Christians based on the frankincese and myrrh gifts.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 10:40 am

  14. tipat says:

    My parents had another tradition with the Belen. For every year they were married, one figure was added to the collection. On the first year they celebrated Christmas as a couple, they just had a baby Jesus figure in the living room. The collection grew up to about 44 pieces. Sadly though, my father passed away on the day of their 44th wedding anniversary. I forgot about this tradition until I saw your post – hopefully my hubby and I can start it next Christmas. =)

    Jan 6, 2009 | 12:03 pm

  15. Marketman says:

    tipat, with only one each of Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the kings, the collection must have a lot of angels and farm animals?! :)

    Jan 6, 2009 | 12:10 pm

  16. Mikey says:

    Old folks refer to the Epiphany as “Pasko ng Matatanda”. Traditionally the last day of the holiday season it is also the last chance for procrastinators and post-Christmas sale bargain hunters to send out their gifts. I prefer receiving them from Santa though. Rudolph is way faster than the camels at delivering them. We kids would have mutinied had we been made to wait till January 6. When I was a kid my dad’s office party had the three kings give gifts to the children instead of Santa. I remember running screaming and crying as soon as Balthazar got near me!

    There was a long line at my neighborhood Latino bakery over the weekend for the rosca de reyes. I’ve tried it once before but didn’t really like the taste. I just destroyed the whole thing trying to look for the doll that’s supposed to be hidden inside. There was no baby Jesus but I did manage to find a miniature blue ceramic alien being. Probably an offshoot of this Mexican tradition, my lola used to bake a Saint Honore with twelve cream puffs around the ring for Epiphany. She puts in a coin, the big Rizal peso that was still worth something at that time. It was no surprise that that my cousin, her favorite apo, would always find it in her piece. My lola explains that the twelve cream puffs are supposed to represent the apostles. I’ve often wondered if we should be serving it during Holy Week then instead of in early January. I guess she never heard of the twelve days of Christmas.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 2:59 pm

  17. consol says:

    Oh dear MM, this post surely brought back fond memories!

    When I was a child, my family used to live in our lola’s house in Sta.Ana, Manila. It was the old-type house with capiz windows and bamboo shades, stone steps and a ‘silong.’ The night before the Feast of the Three Kings, we siblings would put a shoe each on the ‘pasamano’ or the window ledge where the sliding window ‘shutters’ traverse. Since there wasn’t room for the grass or hay for the ‘camels,’ one of us would just leave a crude scribbled letter stating where the grass could be found (in the garden?!). The following morning, we would all rush to the shoes and gleefully check what goodies the Three Kings left for us. More often than not, there would be chocolates and candies; toy gifts were reserved solely for Christmas. This occasion is a perfect cap to the holidays. But it always left behind a tinge of sadness, for now it was time to take down the lights and belen and decor, and put them away for another year. *sigh*

    Thanks for always being there, dear MM. You are a blessing to us all.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 4:24 pm

  18. tipat says:

    Yup, my mom had several sheep, cows, shepherds… anything she could find to fit the nativity scene. She only had one angel tho and that was always placed on top of the make shift “kubo”.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 8:46 pm

  19. sister says:

    Two size 13 and one size 9 shoe are waitng for the Three Kings by the front door, never mind that the owners are close to 3 decades or over old. So in goes chocolates, toiletries, and spices for their kitchens!

    Jan 6, 2009 | 9:09 pm

  20. eej says:

    Hmmm,this is quite an interesting tradition. My family never celebrated this as all christmas decorations go inside several red bins directly to storage by Jan. 2nd. I’ve heard of Three Kings celebration but didn’t realize shoes and candies were involved.

    Jan 6, 2009 | 10:29 pm

  21. marissewalangkaparis says:

    We lived in Baguio for sometime when I was young and like you,we always had a big Belen BESIDE the chimney and of course,the fresh Pinetree. Our figurines looked a lot like yours and I now wonder where or to whom they went.Both my parents have passed away and reading this brought back memories (big sigh). More importance was given to the Belen than the Christmas tree and now–since you wrote on this–I realize that is really what we too should be giving more importance too-the coming of the Baby Jesus!! We also had shoes by the Chimney which were filled with chocolates when we woke up…sigh…sigh…So we were not alone in celebrating that way….
    Thanks MM for helping us relive the wonderful past…Happy New Year!!

    Jan 6, 2009 | 10:56 pm

  22. sylvia says:

    This is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. When we were growing up, we would put our shoes by the window the night before and the Three Kings would leave us money. I always looked forward to this day that marks the end of the Christmas season…bittersweet. You get money but you have to start putting away all the decorations. Now I am passing on the tradition to my 2 little ones.

    Jan 7, 2009 | 1:13 am

  23. Lava Bien says:

    Your stint with Anthony Bourdain could be on Jan. 26th or Feb.2nd. I’ve checked the sched for US showing (usually MOnday Nights) and Philippines is not on list for the Jan 5th, 12th or 19th showing.
    Waiting, waiting, waiting patiently………

    Jan 7, 2009 | 12:26 pm

  24. Marketman says:

    Lava Bien, yes, I think it could be the 5th episode so I will post the data if I get confirmation. This is good news for folks in the States, in the Philippines, we won’t see it for several months more… :)

    Jan 7, 2009 | 2:13 pm

  25. joey says:

    That’s the way it was for us…Three Kings being a bigger deal, gift-wise, than Christmas! Santa didn’t even visit us!

    Jan 7, 2009 | 4:24 pm

  26. corrine says:

    What a lovely “BELEN” and the memories that go with it.

    PanchoA, thanks for reminding us of the significance of the 3 Kings’ gifts.

    Jan 7, 2009 | 6:14 pm


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