Writing about Three Kings Day a couple of weeks ago (and thinking about the Wise Men in general) made me remember the line from the comedy detective show Psych when Dule Hill’s character Gus comments about an all-white Nativity scene, and his sister says, “I thought everyone knew about Balthazar.”
Their knowledge provides a (minor – not a big spoiler) clue in the show, and they’re not wrong: Balthazar is one of the Wise Men, along with Melchior and Gaspar, and he is traditionally African (or Macedonian). (Melchior is elderly and European, and Gaspar is Southeast Asian/Indian – though sometimes depicted as European or African.) I’ve wondered if this was a relatively new innovation to be more inclusive, but it turns out the traditional names and homelands of the Three Wise Men go back at least to the early Middle Ages, being discussed by no less than the Venerable Bede, early English monk and chronicler, circa 700 AD.
Most Medieval European paintings and other art depicting the Wise Men show them all as European, but by the dawn of the Renaissance, we start to see Balthazar as a very dark-skinned African. There were a limited number of Africans in Europe during the Middle Ages, so European artists may not have considered that people from other parts of the world looked much different from themselves, but the Renaissance concern with realism appears to have influenced paintings of the Magi, and today, many Nativity scenes in homes and public places include our friend Balthazar. Now you’ll know to always look for him, whether or not it helps you uncover a murder.
I’ve recently started the process of turning my print books into audiobooks, and A Proper Dragon, narrated by Stephanie Nemeth-Parker, is the first one available. I have the opportunity to give away some free audio copies of A Proper Dragon on Spotify! Keep reading for more information.
You may be aware that Audible has come under fire recently for unfair payment practices toward authors. They’re the industry giant, so while they have done a lot of good for audiobooks, they still have some fairness issues they need to address, mostly due to the fact that they don’t have much competition. Megastar author Brandon Sanderson has announced that his Secret Project books will not be available on Audible, and instead, he’s using Spotify (which now sells audiobooks) to distribute them. (More here from his blog – scroll down to the “audiobook” section.) Though my audiobooks are on Audible, I have distributed them wide to try to help support a variety of listening platforms, and Spotify is currently offering free codes for authors to share their books and introduce people to Spotify’s audiobook services.
So, if you are interested in checking out Spotify’s audiobook services and getting A Proper Dragon free as an audiobook, I just ask that you subscribe to my quarterly newsletter (the link is http://eepurl.com/bqCKTr) and consider leaving an honest review of the audiobook once you’ve listened to it. The first 25 people who sign up through the link above get a unique free book code for A Proper Dragon on Spotify (free Spotify account required).
And remember that you can request books – including audiobooks – through your local library! Happy listening!
You may have heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas or even celebrated it in some form as the twelve days leading up to Christmas. But did you know that’s backwards? Traditionally, the twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas and continue for twelve days after, ending January 6th with Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. The whole time in between used to be one long celebration called Christmastide, kind of like what we experience now as the dead week between Christmas and New Years, but with more parties. Twelfth Night was the end of the festivities, celebrated either on January 6th or on the 5th as “Epiphany Eve” depending on how people counted the nights.
Today, Three Kings Day or Epiphany is still celebrated in some Catholic cultures with at least as much gusto as Christmas, with a gift exchange to commemorate the gifts brought by the Wise Men and a King Cake containing a small toy baby or a bean so that whoever finds it gets good luck for the year, and sometimes the honor of being “king” and bringing next year’s cake.
I like the idea of stretching out the Christmas celebrations as long as possible since in the northern hemisphere, this is a pretty bleak time of year. But for people like me who procrastinate taking down Christmas, there’s some bad news: it’s bad luck to keep your decorations up after Three Kings Day. Christmas is over and it’s time to move on. In fact, if you keep them up as long as Candlemas (February 2nd), people used to believe it would bring death into the home – especially if you hang on to the evergreens and holly berries. So, I suppose I’d better start taking down the tree. Happy Three Kings Day!