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3 kings pictures

Once upon a time there was a flourishing Christian civilisation here. The landscape boasts hundreds of monasteries and churches – many now in ruins, many surmounted by mosques.

We walk down through the village, in the shadow of crumbling towers and gaping vaults, entering the courtyard of the Church of the Yoldath Aloho, the Mother of God. As I enter the nave I know I am standing in history. Is that the smell of ancient cement, or is it rotting plaster?
Thirty years ago there were 50,000 Christians in south-eastern Turkey speaking a dialect of Aramaic – the language of Christ. Now there are 2,500. Talking to one of them, the BBC’s Jeremy Bristow learned that instead of Three Kings, there might actually have been 12.

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Dipping his pen into the inkwell, he momentarily pauses, then starts to write. The broad nib moves right to left in neat black flicks and dashes, some vertical, some slanted, some horizontal, often with a deft flourish at the end. Sometimes Habib fashions a triangle, sometimes a circle, sometimes he adorns the shapes with a dot, indicating a vowel.
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They will be here at Christmas. Habib tells me a local legend. Just over 2,000 years ago an auspicious star appeared in the night sky. Twelve kings from the East gathered here at Hah. A select three went on to Bethlehem bearing gifts to greet the newborn Christ. A grateful Mary, mother of God, gave them a piece of the baby’s swaddling clothes. When the three kings returned to Hah, the holy baby-wrap turned to gold. Awed by this miracle, the Kings founded this church.
The walls and niches are covered in a riot of carved decorations covering arches that support a soaring octagonal dome. It’s here that Habib and the villagers still come to chant the hymns of Saint Ephraim, as their ancestors have done since the Church was built, nearly 1,500 years ago.

Habib says his family, the Beth Henno, have been here since records began. But so many Syriac Christians have left for Istanbul, for Sweden, Germany, Australia. In the last three decades they’ve been caught up in the brutal war between the Turkish state and the Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK. They’ve been threatened and driven out by both sides. In the 1980s 50,000 lived in Tur Abdin, now less than 5% of that number remain.

Among the surviving Syriac people of south-eastern Turkey, Jeremy Bristow hears that there may have been as many as 12.

3 kings pictures

The 66-year-old Nutley resident never believed in Santa Claus and fondly remembers the Three Wise Kings who brought him gifts when he was a child. The gifts were hidden throughout the home and much like the three kings, children take a “journey” to find them. When he was 6, he remembers his gifts were so big, they couldn’t be hidden.

Her fondest memories with her family come from Three Kings Day. She remembers helping her stepmother make duck and potatoes and playing Monopoly with her cousins for the first time. Back in Germany, none of her friends would celebrate the day, so she felt special to hold a unique tradition.
“I want my children to have the same feeling I had and I want them to feel the warmth and everything. Traditions in general, there’s a specific warmth to them,” DeVre said.

She thanks her father and stepmother for the traditions she is now able to pass on to her 6-month old daughter. With a second baby on the way, she’s excited to share the religious meaning and celebration of Three Kings Day with her own family.
He emigrated to the United States in 1967 and said the tradition was slowly lost over the years. He has two children with his wife and remembers celebrating Christmas Day American-style with Santa. Yet, he said the most important part, church and the story of the three kings, lived on.
The Morris County Organization for Hispanic Affairs celebrates Three Kings Day last year. (Photo: Morris County Organization for Hispanic Affairs)
The Morris County Organization for Hispanic Affairs (MCOHA) has celebrated the day for seven years. It hosts an annual event where families and children in the community take pictures with the Three Wise Kings and partake in eating the traditional Rosca de Reyes, an oval-shaped sweet bread decorated with dried fruit symbolizing the king’s crown. Typically, a baby figurine is hidden within the bread and whoever finds it hosts a celebration on Feb. 2 to honor the day Jesus was taken to the temple to be blessed.
Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, is the day when the Three Wise Men followed the star to Bethlehem bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh for baby Jesus.

“I have so many good memories. But Latin Americans and Hispanic Americans, we bring the world the gift of maintaining this tradition alive,” De Armas said.

Jan. 6 marks the end of the Christmas season as well as the Three Kings Day celebration. Here's how families keep the tradition alive