On this day in 1973, Schoolhouse Rock debuted on ABC-TV with the episode, “Three Is a Magic Number,” a major milestone in the history of the rock video. The three-minute educational songs were sung by such luminaries as jazz legend Blossom Dearie (“Peel Me an Adjective”) and the duo of Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham (“Dysfunction Junction”).
January 6 has a long history in the Christian church. It was the original date for the celebration of Jesus’ birth in the east, until it was supplanted by December 25 sometime later, primarily due to pressure from the retail sector. Instead, today is Theophany, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John the (wait for it) Baptist, who is also called John the Forerunner. Speaking of “Three Is a Magic Number,” the Church recognizes this event as the first manifestation of the Holy Trinity, featuring as it does (in Matthew 3) Jesus in the role of baptisand, God the Father as the bodiless voice (uncredited), and the Holy Spirit as the dove. Most theologians agree that John did not say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of yourself, and of the Holy Spirit.”
On this day all over the world Orthodox priests perform the “great blessing of the waters.” In warmer climes, the priest will throw a crucifix far into the water, and the youth of the parish will swim out and retrieve it. Any resemblance this ritual has to people throwing sticks into the water for their dogs to fetch is, according to most ancient sources, purely coincidental. In colder climes the ritual involves a good deal less swimming, although some brave Russians have been known to chop holes in the ice on this day. History also notes that in the nineteenth century, a person could obtain over 100 different flavors of vodka in Petersburg, Russia. Ancient sources say nothing to deny a correlation between these two facts. In the Russia of that day, Theophany marked the beginning of “The Season,” a time of merriment and jollity between Theophany and Lent, which often featured exactly the sort of party where over 100 flavors of vodka were served, if you were lucky enough to wrangle an invitation. Lesser souls had to make do with one flavor, or two if the potato crop were especially robust that year.
The ceremony of “the lesser blessing of the waters” involves making up a batch of holy water for use throughout the year, such as the annual blessing of homes, in which the priest goes throughout the home splashing holy water on everything while the family sings the troparion of the feast to the same tune as the intro of the “1812 Overture,” only usually with fewer violins.
In the west, today is called Epiphany and commemorates the coming of the Three Wise Men to visit Jesus as recorded in Matthew 2. According to that gospel, the wise men or “magi” (Greek for “maguses”) visit King Herod to ascertain where the baby king was born, making them the last men in recorded history to stop and ask for directions. As is told during the Christmas season ad nauseam by people who like showing off the sort of obscure knowledge that 65% of their readers already know, Matthew’s gospel does not indicate how many wise men there actually were. Tradition has fixed on three because, well, it’s a magic number, and because that’s how many gifts are mentioned.
Traditionally on this day a Catholic priest blesses water, frankincense, gold, and chalk, the latter being used to write the letters “CMB” above parishioners’ doorways. This either stands for the initials of the three wise men (Curly, Moe, and Balthasar), or Christus Mansionem Benedictat, meaning, “May Christ enjoy poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce on a toasted muffin in this house.” Astute readers will notice that the third biblical gift, myrrh, has been replaced with chalk; imaginative ones will consider that initials written on lintels with perfume, while perhaps pleasing olfactorily, quickly dry out and become illegible.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.