About the Christmas Story and The Epiphany
Early Christians had no celebration for the birth of Jesus, because the date was unknown.
In about the fourth century, December 25 was designated as Jesus’ date of birth, possibly because it had been the day of the pagan festival Sol Invictus, which followed the winter solstice and marked the sun’s annual triumph against winter darkness.
The biblical story of the Epiphany is in Chapter Two of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The Bible doesn’t say how many Magi followed the star until they found the newborn Jesus, but through the years the number three has been adopted in Christian tradition since they brought three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. The story says the Magi, wise men, came from the East and followed the star in search of the newborn King.
The three men are believed to have been astrologers and their submission to Jesus often is viewed as the submission of magical arts and superstition to the Lord. Because the Magi apparently arrived after Christ was born, the date of January 6 was adopted in about the fifth century.
In Orthodox Christianity, January 6 signifies the baptism of Jesus, while mainstream Christianity typically acknowledges the baptism after the visit of the Magi, this year on January 8.
Numerous Epiphany traditions have been adopted by various cultures through the years. One that’s popular in Europe includes blessing homes by writing the year, with the symbols C + M + B in chalk above the front door of homes, a practice sometimes called called smudging.
This year, that symbolism would read: 20 C + M + B 07, said Peggy Guerrero of Jordan Ministries, who uses smudging each January 6 at her family’s home.
Some believe the letters stand for the names of the three Magi later adopted by tradition, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
Others say they symbolize the Latin phrase “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” which means “May Christ bless this house”.