Sunday 1 December 2019

Deck the Halls: 1) Three Queer Kings

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the traditional time of year when we start thinking about Christmas and putting up decorations.

Like me you’ve probably got all or most of your decorations ready. The English tradition is to put them up during Advent, and the last thing to do is to put a star on top of the Christmas tree after sunset on Christmas Eve (NEVER put the star on the tree before then). One tradition that has been forgotten is that you leave the decoration up until February 2nd, the actual last day of Christmas.

On each Sunday this Advent I’m writing about some Christmas decorations and their queer connections. Perhaps you’ll be able to get some last minute ideas, or some for next year if you’ve got this year sorted out.

Rather than put up the same decorations every year I try to have a different theme. In a previous home in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, I chose the Three Kings as my theme for Christmas 1996. Whether you call them the Three Kings, the Three Wise Men of the Three Magi these characters have become so entrenched in Christian lore (not to be confused with Christian doctrine) that they are the world’s second most popular Christmas gift-bringers, bringing gifts for all or most of the Hispanic world.

The current thinking about the Three Kings strips away all the medieval elaborations and accepts that they were eastern priests, astrologers of shamen. Being referred to a “wise” in some versions of the nativity story suggests they held honoured positions in their own communities.

In more recent years research into ancient religions and beliefs has revealed that many of the pagan faiths had priests who were either eunuch, transgender or intersex. This has led to the theory that the Three Kings were also gender variant. Another theory is that all of the Three Kings were women. This has caused some controversy among conservative Christians, as you can imagine.

For further discussion on the gender of the Three Kings/Wise Men/Magi/Queens I direct you to the following article, one of several on the internet discussing the subject: “Epiphany: Three Kings or Three Queens?”.

Back to the Christmas decorations. In 1996 I decided to use three corners of my living room to create something to represent each of the traditional Three Kings. But first I had to identify them and decide what objects and symbols I would to use to represent them.

The names were easy, they are well known – Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. I was a keen heraldry buff even in 1996 so I knew that medieval heralds had invented coats of arms for them, so I made shields out of cardboard. Unfortunately, the medieval representations and sources were never consistent so in the end I had to decide which coat of arms I’d use. The same went for objects to represent the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. To add to the atmosphere of the displays I chose a different incense to go with each King. Finally, I chose a main colour for each of them. My final choice was as follows:

Now I was ready to construct a corner display for each King. I was lucky, I lived in an old house that had a picture rail around the top of the room so I had something I could hang the decorations from.

I won’t go into detail about how I constructed the displays because it would take too long. Basically, I began with three cardboard boxes and turned them into triangular shelves that fit snuggly into the corners. I then suspended the shelves from the picture rail with string (you can see some string showing in the red Balthazar display). I realised that the shelves wouldn’t hold much weight so I made sure everything I put on it was a light as possible. On top of each corner display I made royal eastern headgear under which to suspended the coats of arms.

The finished displays are shown below.

On the shelves I put holders for the incense sticks and objects to represent the Kings’ gifts. Gold was represented by a cardboard gold bar. Frankincense was represented by a small oriental-looking bottle. Myrrh was represented by a small cardboard treasure chest. These are shown in close-up below.

With a bit of evergreen decoration and some tinsel the displays were complete. I still consider this to be one of my favourite Christmas ideas. I’d probably do some things differently, but in 1996 it was perfect.

I’m sure you’ll have you own ideas about how to use a Three Kings theme.

Next Sunday I’ll look at another popular Christmas decoration. No Christmas would be complete without them – fairy lights.

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