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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

W is for Wisemen

Sunday, December 17, 2023

W is for Wisemen is the 22nd post in a series of 26 posts listing Christmas traditions from A to Z. Traditions we observe during the holidays add joy, love, comfort, laughter, and meaning to our holiday celebrations. 

is for Wisemen.

The Christmas tradition of the three wisemen is an important part of the story of the birth of Christ in the Bible. After the birth of Jesus, a star in the east led the wisemen to where the baby Jesus was in Bethlehem. 

Our tradition of giving gifts to loved ones at Christmas follows the example of the wisemen presenting gold, myrrh, and frankincense to the Christ child. 

Three of the most familiar depictions of the three wisemen are 1) part of a nativity scene, 2) each presenting gifts, and 3) riding camels following a bright eastern star. 

Wisemen in Nativity Scene

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, 

Magi from the east came to Jerusalem  and asked, 

'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? 

We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'" 

Matthew 2:1-2 

The Christmas tradition of including three wisemen in the nativity scene and Christmas decor comes from the verses that tell the story of visitors from the east following a star to the one who has been born king of the Jews. However, our wisemen traditions are more specific than the original Bible story.
  • The Bible does not name the wisemen. 
  • Indeed the Bible does not even call them wisemen, but Magi instead. 
  • Nor does the biblical story specify how many wisemen sought the newborn babe. 
  • The wisemen did not arrive to worship Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem on the night of his birth, but when he was older, still less than two years old. They first went to Jerusalem before going to Bethlehem and arrived in Jerusalem after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. 

Today's traditional Nativity scene includes all the groups who came to worship Jesus following his birth: the angels who proclaimed his birth, the shepherds who heard the proclamation and went to Bethlehem, and the wisemen who followed the star and presented gifts to Jesus. 

Often animals associated with the birth of Jesus are also included: the donkey Mary rode to Bethlehem, sheep with their shepherds, cows that may have been in the animal barn where Jesus was laid in a manger, and camels the wisemen rode to find Jesus. 

Wisemen With Gifts

"On coming to the house.

they saw the child with his mother Mary, 

and they bowed down and worshipped him. 

Matthew 2:11

"Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of 

gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

Matthew 2:11 

The Christmas tradition of three wisemen comes from the Magi presenting the child with three gifts, one gift per Magi. 

Wisemen Following Eastern Star

"After they heard the king, they went on their way, 

and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them 

until it stopped over the place where the child was."

Matthew 2:9

Bethlehem is often included with the three wisemen since that is the place Jesus was born. 

Wisemen are traditionally part of Christmas ornament collections that depict the Nativity. Wedgwood has a beautiful three dimensional wisemen ornament with front and back views of the Magi riding camels. 


Today, Christmas cards with wisemen often say, "Wisemen still seek Him."