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The Three Wise Men Were Cooler Than Jesus

Forget the baby — the rich dudes on a road trip are true Christmas icons

Oh, you thought our Thanksgiving op-eds were bad? Gird your stockings for the least wonderful time of the year, when the merry gentlepeople of MEL attempt to outdo one another with the most heinous holiday takes we can unwrap. We can already feel the angry tweets nipping at our noses.

Out of the entire canon of Christmas music, my favorite song is probably “We Three Kings,” and not just because it’s set in the hauntingly beautiful key of E Minor. I just think the Three Wise Men are more interesting, mysterious and — you know I’ll say it — better than Jesus Christ. Especially Baby Jesus, who can barely do anything. I wish the holiday were about them instead.

Am I going to hell for this opinion? Fine with me. Call the cool pope, I don’t give a fuck. The Wise Men (also referred to as the biblical Magi and the Three Kings) up and left their far-flung kingdoms to follow the Star of Bethlehem in order to pay homage to a beatific infant they heard would be the Messiah and King of the Jews. No doubt they had other responsibilities to attend to back home, but they went on a road trip by camel anyway. Dudes rock, and dudes love being cool uncles when someone else (like God) decides to procreate for whatever silly reason.

Our understanding of who the Wise Men were has shifted over the centuries, and it’s not clear from the gospel accounts how many turned up to say “sup” to Jesus. This leaves open the tantalizing possibility of a massive Wise Men caravan, a wandering frat-boy party in the desert, searching out the ideal pad for their holy rager. When they found the Madonna and child under the aforementioned star is also up for debate — it seems this happened separately from the familiar scene in the manger, at a later date, meaning they arrived fashionably late. King shit.

The Wise Men’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the blessed newborn are the character details that most of us raised in the Christian religions remember, even if we have a very fuzzy notion of what the latter two things are. Turns out, none makes a recommended present for a baby shower — as MEL’s Ian Lecklitner reported last year, Li’l Jesus basically got a choking hazard and two kinds of poison — but come on, that rules. Obviously you can give God’s only begotten son stuff that other tykes can’t handle. Again, crushing it on the fun uncle duties. And if that’s the quality of the goodies they’re giving away, you can be positive they were decked out in sick fits.

Oh, and did I mention that the Wise Men specifically avoided King Herod — the ruler of Judea who feared Jesus as a threat to his power — despite his demand that they tell him where the babe lay, presumably so he could have it killed? Matthew 2:12: “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path.” That’s right: The story of the New Testament would’ve gone nowhere unless the Magi left Herod’s messages on read, based on a slumberous hallucination they all had simultaneously. Makes perfect sense, as it appears the homies shared a big bed and gave each other tender kisses before falling asleep.

Ahead of their time, to be sure. Moreover, in most traditions, the Wise Men have taken on cultural identities that affirm the global scope of the story. Whereas Jesus’ appearance has been significantly “whitened” since his own lifetime, the adoring kings Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar are often represented as ambassadors from Europe, Asia and Africa, of varied ages and physical features. This has led to some problematic customs — in some countries, celebrants use blackface to portray Balthazar — but also beautiful community, as when the Spanish city of Reus welcomed African migrants to take honored roles in the local Three Wise Men Parade six months after they gained asylum there following their perilous rescue at sea.

Christmas may be Jesus’ (observed) birthday, and I guess that’s technically “important,” but we all know who’s bringing the light, flair, wonder and generosity attached to the season. You don’t need Santa Claus when you’ve got this squad handing out treasure and spreading good vibes. Let’s recognize them as the diverse, game-changing icons they are, and maybe cut down on all the creepy elf shit we’ve tried to attach to this consumer holiday. It’s not every millennium that a crew of visionary world leaders goes on a pilgrimage to see how cute a tiny human manifestation of the divine spirit looks in his swaddling clothes. Thank you, Magi, for simping when it counted the most.