Tradition has it that there were three kings and that they gave gifts to Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. They followed a star and, when they reached Jerusalem lost sight of the star, so they went to the palace of the king and asked where the new king was to be found. Herod the Great was really very interested in what they had to say, because he didn't know anything about a new king, and he asked them to let him know all about it. They said that they had been following star, and that they had come from the East. Herod gathered his advisers together and found out from them all that they knew about the new born king. They were religious men and put two and two together, and worked out that this might be the Messiah that they were referring to. They knew their scriptures and that the Hebrew Bible said that he would be born in Bethlehem. So that's what they said.
The kings went on their way after promising to tell Herod all about the king when they found him so that he could worship him as well.
We don't know how many 'kings' there were. We do know that the Magi - from which we get the word Magicians, but which means wise men or astrologers - headed off to Bethlehem and the star guided them until it stopped over an inn (or pub). They found Mary and the baby Jesus, and gave gifts of gold, incense (frankincense) and myrrh (expensive perfume).
Well, to be honest, we don't know that it stopped over an inn, only that when it stopped they found Mary and Jesus and worshipped him, and gave him the presents.
They went to sleep, and dreamt that Herod wanted to harm Jesus, so they went back home a different way, instead of going to see Herod.
Herod was cross, and asked when the star had appeared, he decided to get rid of any future king so ordered any baby boys under two years old to be killed. Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Egypt to escape from him and his soldiers. eventually they went back from Egypt to Nazareth where Jesus grew up.
The church celebrates the day when the wise men gave Jesus presents in two ways: we give presents to people at Christmas, and we call the day we think of the wise men 'Epiphany' because the star guided the wise men by its light. Epiphany means to shine.
Christmas carols do not always tell the whole truth, but they convey a deep spirituality and popular culture likes the romantic ideas that they convey about Jesus and Christmas. Occasionally the carols seem to make things up, like when Jesus is described as 'no crying he makes' . Babies cry, everybody knows that, and Jesus was a baby like any other, so he cried. By emphasising his divine nature we lose sight of his humanity, and when we emphasise his humanity we run the risk of losing sight of his divinity : Jesus was God come down to earth.
If you wrote a Christmas carol, what would it be about?
Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th, or the nearest Sunday. Sometimes is is celebrated as part of Christmas and the wise men or three kings begin their journey to the crib from the other end of the Church as the crib is put up, but they don't arrive until January 6th (the 12th day of Xmas).
Sometimes the christingle service is held at epiphany.
The Meaning of Epiphany.
We three Kings of Orient Are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star.
The kings might have rode on camels, like the Christmas cards, show, but we really don't know. Perhaps they rode on horses, or in chariots pulled by two or four horses - like you can see on the film Ben Hur, but we don't know at all. In Palestine 2000 years ago there were no cars, planes, buses or taxis.