The Cast: Balthazar (One), Gaspar (Two), Melchior (Three), Myself (Connected).
Each day, they get a little closer.
As a child, every year at Christmas time, my family pulled out our manger set and set it out in our front room. It was a large, ceramic set that my parents had made when they were newly married. And sadly, over time, a few pieces broke. At a time before I could remember, one of the three Wisemen had to replace Joseph (Joseph was dropped).
In the set, there was a camel (it was huge) that I loved to set up. I say set up, but it was more like set out. That camel was SO cool! The details on him, and the sheer size of him… The main focus was the manger. Baby Jesus would be set there as a final part of our Christmas eve traditions, then off to bed for the next day. The children would take turns, each year, getting to place Jesus in the manger. It was a very big deal to get to do that—we all loved it.
On occasion, my mother would tell us of how, when she was a child, each night, her family would walk up and down the street during the month of December. Apparently, there is this great Latin-cultural event where the Wisemen journey across the room toward Mary and Joseph. See, folks in my mother’s neighborhood, they would set the manger and stuff, up in their front rooms for their neighbors to see ‘The Journey of the Wisemen’. This is one of those let’s-see-if-we-can-outdo-our-neighbors kinda things. Curtains would be opened. Scenery built/added. Special tracks so the Wisemen wouldn’t be disturbed. All kinds of special things. It was a big deal.
Well, many years ago, I decided to start doing just that with our Wisemen. The manger set that my wife and I bought for our little family is a Playmobile set. We love it. Little toys figures of Mary, Joseph, the cutest tiny baby Jesus, lambs, a camel, an ox, the donkey, some kittens, an angel, a paper manger set, and of course the three Wisemen. We got this set mainly because the baby Jesus is removable and could be placed in the manger on Christmas Eve (a very important tradition to me), and also because they were toys and could be played with by the children (I always wanted to play with my childhood manger set, but you don’t get to play with fragile ceramics).
Yeah, so, one year I talked to my wife and told her of my plan to walk the wisemen through our front room to the Christ child, she thought it would be a fun idea. But, just moving little toy figures across the room wasn’t good enough. I needed a way to engage our children into this new Christmas activity. So, I added my own touch: Humor.
Before I began, I did some research on the Wisemen, to see what the world thought about them. There is lots of information to be had, and the consensus seems to be that there are three names that can be agreed upon; Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar.
The more I dug, the more I wanted to establish personalities for our little Playmobile Wisemen. They are of three distinct races (which makes no never-mind to me, but I still think it’s cool), and so, having studied lots of classic comedic groups, I knew the kinds of personalities I needed: Serious, silly, and the bridge between. And the more I looked at our figures, the easier it became to name them. Between the personalities, the toys themselves, and how I would present them, I came up with the Serious, the Silly, and the Bridge.
Balthazar is the leader. He is serious, level headed, dutiful, and goal-oriented. While he loves his companions, Gaspar can try his patience. Balthazar wears a long blue cape and fancy crown with a feather in his cap. He carries with him a journal/guide/book/log/scripture.
Gaspar is the silly. He is childlike, innocent, big-hearted, and full of energy. He is often the reason for the group’s misfortunes, but never intentionally. Gaspar is garbed in green and wears a golden cape. What he carries is still uncertain (given the scale of the toy—and it is designed to be held by a toy—I suspect it may be a small scepter or possibly a dreidel (I know what I wrote and the religious significance).
Melchior is the bridge. He is the combination of the other two, dedicated and intelligent, he often sides with Gaspar just to see how Balthazar will react. He is also the only one to break the fourth wall. Melchior is robed in purples, has an elegant turban, and carries a hooked staff.
The camel is there with all their gifts and luggage. Sadly, he often is just there in the background, lending his support and playing along for the sake of that particular year’s story/theme.
Once all that was established, it made each day pretty easy to set up. I would move the little band ever so closer to their destination, placing them in such a way as to tell a little narrative, without words. Our children would come home from school, go to the front room to see what the day brought. It was so much fun. Sometimes they got the visual joke, sometimes they did not and I would have to explain it to them. It is difficult to translate a joke well, without text. This gave my wife an idea.
As I was lamenting the inability to help the children ‘get the joke’ without words, my wife suggested I take pictures and post them on her Facebook account and then I could write the joke. Brilliant! I liked that idea. At the time, we had a poor digital camera, so I did the best I could and began to chronicle ‘The Journey of the Wisemen’ each day.
It wasn’t always easy to do: Get home from work. Set things up. Take pictures. Sift through the bad, to find one good one. Take more pictures because the last batch sucked. Post picture. Write something clever. Whew, a lot of stressful work. But, people enjoyed them and began to look forward to them. Fun! And with the addition of my blog a couple years ago, my wife suggested that I share the journey here as well. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. As silly as it may sound, this tradition is very personal to me. My wife’s Facebook has family and close friends, so it was not as strange as it was to post this part of my life there. But I did, and I enjoyed it very much.
For many years, as I would talk to people about ‘The Journey’, and how it was a cultural thing, they would all look strangely at me and say, “Huh, I’ve never heard of that.” I began to get discouraged and started to think that it was another of my mother’s twisted mind games. Then one day, a coworker got all excited about it because that’s what her grandmother did (Latin). Her grandmother had a series of tracks that would span the front room for the Wisemen to walk across. My wife currently has a coworker that also is familiar with this tradition (Latin also) and walks her Wisemen across her front room as well. And I encounter more and more people who do this, each year.
It can be stressful sometimes, trying to think of new ideas for the trio, each year. Then add to that, the taking of the pictures, the sifting, the posting… Ugh. But, I love it. It connects me to a part of my heritage in a way that I never really had growing up. This simple tradition—which has been going on for over a decade now—of walking Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar to the Christ child (with a snippet of silly) has become one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. It’s almost like I also get to be there with them along the way, seeking the Savior of mankind. But, again, I feel a connection to a part of who I am that I didn’t know was missing.
Now, I have people that anticipate the journey. The show. They look forward to seeing what Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar will be up to. And, I do too.
Thank you for being part of my journey with my blog, and I look forward to what is to come. Happy Christmas! May you find joy in who you are, and in Him.