Christmas season ends in Germany with a visit by The Three Magi

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Christmas season in Germany ends with the visit and feast of the Three Magi, or "Heilige Drei Koenige." The event commemorates the journey of the Three Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus in Betlehem.

In the 9th century, the legend of the Three Magi became the legend of the Oriental kings, named Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In 1164, relics allegedly derived from the Magi and kept in Milan for centuries, were brought to Cologne, where the golden shrine of the Three Kings (Dreikoenigsschrein) has, to this day, remained the greatest treasure of the famous cathedral. The relics, sought out by pilgrims during the Middle Ages, motivated the citizens of Cologne to build their great Dom cathedral.

The custom of celebrating "Three Kings Day" spread from Cologne to other Roman-Catholic areas of Germany. For the Catholic Church, the feast of "Epiphany," Jan. 6, is actually celebrating the manifestation of the Salvation to mankind. For the Catholic population, however, it's primarily the feast of the Three Three Magi or the three Holy Kings.

In the past - and in some rural areas today - a number of superstitious customs were practiced on the eve of Jan. 6 to protect the house and home. Houses and stables were smoked out with branches consecrated in the church, and the initials of the Heilige Drei Koenige, C+M+B, plus the year were written on the door beam with consecrated chalk.

Some of these traditions are still carried on in some regions in Germany, including the Eifel.

Groups of adults or children, often youngsters who assist the priest during church services, walk from house to house dressed as the Three Holy Kings. They carry a star-shaped lantern on a stick. Because they carry the star and sing a song or say a religious poem at people's doors, they are also called the star singers. In return, the star singers receive gifts such as eggs, bread, cake or monetary donations, which go into humanitarian aid funds.