On Wednesday, January 4, 2017 many AAFSW and AAFSW – FBS members gathered together at the beautiful home of Tom and Sheila Switzer, our AAFSW Program Chair. We were all invited to celebrate the Three Kings’ Day, also known as Theophany or Epiphany, which is customarily celebrated on the 6th of January.
All of us were very impressed by the wonderful and extensive collection of nativity and manger scenes exhibited on every table and in every corner of the Switzer’s warm and inviting home. The nativity scenes come from all over the world and they are unique to each country, depicting the charm of the country from which they come. They are all delicately painted, artfully sculpted, and elegantly arranged in the Switzer home.
It is obvious that such an incredible display of nativity scenes is an example of the diversity of the Foreign Service Community, from the range and beauty of the art form and materials used to the culture of the country from which each scene originates. Many nativity scenes are indicative of the local culture. Some capture the warmth and the daylight; others represent the cold and starry nights.
The nativity scenes from Africa include indigenous African people, native animals, and palm trees. The Peruvian crèche, or “retablo,” meaning “devotional art behind the altar,” includes painted illustrations of holy figures on flat panels or figures of devotion arranged in a tableau inside a box, which also functions as a portable altar. Interestingly, we all learned that the retablos, or laminas, originated in Europe: Spanish missionaries transported them to the New World, where their imagery was used a religious inspiration. In total, over 60 countries were represented in the Switzer home through a local nativity scene.
Our multitalented hosts had also prepared a quiz with a great deal of information about the meaning of the Three Kings’ Day and how it is celebrated around the world. In various places, on the evening before Three Kings, traditionally there are prayers as blessed dried herbs burn in the background, with their aromatic smell filling the house. Doorways are sprinkled with holy water and the master of the house writes with chalk C + M + B and the year above the house door and say: “Caspar, Melchor, Baltazar, protect us again this year from the dangers of fire and water,” referring to the Three Kings.
In some countries, beginning with New Year’s and through January 6, children are dressed as the kings, and holding up a large star, they go from door to door, caroling and singing the Three Kings’ song. In many countries, in the days preceding Three Kings’ Day, children write letters to the Magi requesting a toy or gift that they would like. On the night of January 5th, the figures of the Wise Men are placed in the nativity scene. In Mexico, children traditionally leave out their shoes with a bit of hay in them to feed the camels and animals of the Magi. When the children wake up in the morning, their gifts have appeared in the place of the hay.
The beautiful lunch that followed was full of delicacies, which all AAFSW and AAFSW-FBS members brought to share. It was accompanied by Sheila’s spiced Mexican punch and lots of wine and cheer! Then we all joined together in celebrating the most iconic tradition associated with Three Kings Day. This includes hot Mexican spiced chocolate and the customary eating of a Rosca de Reyes (King’s Ring), which is sweet bread shaped like a wreath with candied fruit on top and a figurine of the Newborn Baby baked inside. The person who finds the figurine is expected to host a party on Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas), celebrated on February 2nd. Being an amazingly attentive hostess, Sheila’s Rosca de Reyes had 7-8 Newborn Baby figurines baked inside of it, so all guests felt happy and lucky!
Thanks to our gracious host and hostess, Tom and Sheila Switzer, our AAFSW Program Chair, we all enjoyed a fantastic time full of culture and experienced a special day, which truly reflected the spirit of the season.
AAFSW Fun For Funds Fundraising Events Committee Member
Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen