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Artaban: The fourth wise man

To think about the true meaning of Christmas.

by Jenny Tuxford

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To think about the true meaning of Christmas.

Preparation and materials

  • Read the story of the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2.2–11.
  • Tell the children the story of Artaban. Explain that this is fiction. Read the poem to the children. You might like to divide it up and enact it. You might prefer to take each scene and devise tableaux for the children to adopt.
  • The story lends itself to plenty of discussion. You might like to discuss the idea that giving gifts doesn’t take away from the true meaning of Christmas, but that there are other ways to make it a special time. Can the children think of ways to make it a happy time for family and friends?
  • See for the carol.


  1. Sing the carol ‘It was on a starry night’.
  2. The story of Artaban – The fourth wise man

    Once, years ago, lived a truly good man –
    This is the story of Artaban.
    He lived in a house a long way away
    And one day three visitors came to stay.

    Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar
    Were looking for one particular star.
    Well, they talked and read and studied the sky
    Then talked some more and played ‘I spy’.

    ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘s’.
    ‘No. Not that one. It’s not moving.’
    ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘s’.
    ‘No. Not that one. That’s a shooting star.’

    (Six hours later…)

    ‘We spy with our little eyes
    Something that fills us with hope and surprise.
    A star so splendid, a star so bright,
    It shimmers and dazzles and lights up the night.’

    ‘The star!’ cried Balthazar. ‘The very thing
    That will lead us to Jesus, the baby King.’
    ‘This star is the one,’ they shouted, ‘and so
    We’ll say our goodbyes, for we have to go.’

    ‘Let me come with you,’ Artaban pleaded.
    ‘Friends, please don’t tell me I’m not really needed.
    I must come along! Oh, please, can’t you see,
    This journey’s extremely important to me!’

    Caspar looked worried. He shook his head.
    ‘All right, we’ll meet you.’ To his friends he said,
    ‘Young Arty’s a dreamer, I know you agree.
    He’ll be late, he’ll dawdle, we’ll lose him, you’ll see.’

    The wise men stood up and gave a small bow.
    ‘We’ll meet in the temple in three days from now.’
    Arty was busy with a lot to prepare.
    He’d need lots of things for his journey there.

    Food, clothes and water – the list grew and grew.
    With a camel, a tent and a present or two.
    ‘I’ll go to the market and sell everything
    To buy a nice present that’s fit for a King.’

    He packed his belongings – whatever would sell,
    Bought a ruby, a pearl and a sapphire as well.
    At last he was ready, and the very next day
    He loaded his camel and went on his way.

    For two days he travelled, he was doing just fine.
    He had an appointment and was making good time.
    The third day the going began to get tough,
    The camel was tiring and Arty felt rough.

    But time marches on, there was no time to sleep –
    Not with a vital engagement to keep.
    Just then came a sound – a moan and a groan.
    ‘It can’t be,’ cried Artaban, ‘surely I am alone.’

    But he got off his camel and went to explore
    And found a poor man who was battered and sore.
    ‘Help me! Please help me,’ the injured man said.
    ‘I’ve been beaten and robbed and left here for dead.’

    ‘I’ll be late if I help him!’ Arty felt sad.
    ‘They’ll go off without me, but that’s just too bad.’
    So he washed the man’s wounds and bandaged his head.
    Then, ‘I’ll take you to safety,’ Artaban said.

    They went to a village though darkness was falling
    And at people’s houses the two men went calling.
    ‘This man has been beaten – is not feeling good,
    So I’ll ask you to care for him here, if you would.’

    ‘You’ve got to be joking! Help? I will not.
    Food and doctors cost money which I haven’t got.’
    And right then and there, without hesitation,
    Arty paid up for the man’s medication.

    Now seeing the sapphire, the girl’s eyes opened wide
    And she nodded her head and took him inside.
    Oh, poor Artaban, he knows he’ll be late
    And he also knows that the wise men won’t wait.

    ‘The secrets of life will be found on this quest,
    So I’ll go on my own, but tonight I must rest.’
    Early next morning he went on his way
    Journeying through the fierce heat of the day.

    Then, when both traveller and camel were spent
    Through the bitter cold night Arty slept in his tent.
    The next morning found him again on his quest,
    Travelling on with not much time for rest.

    Till at last the star stood still in the sky
    And what should he hear but a baby cry!
    He laughed out loud and began to sing.
    Could he have found the new baby King?

    He jumped off his camel and went to explore.
    ‘This is the Child I’ve been looking for!’
    But a young woman stood with a tear-stained face.
    ‘The soldiers are searching everyone’s place!

    A baby’s been born who they say will be great
    And King Herod is jealous and crazy with hate.
    It’s some kind of prophecy that’s being fulfilled
    So he’s ordered that all baby boys should be killed.’

    ‘At my knock you must have been filled with alarm,
    But I’m not a soldier and I mean you no harm.’
    Just then came a very loud knock on the door.
    ‘Open up! You know what we’re looking for.’

    Sure enough, the baby began to wail.
    The parents, and Artaban, turned very pale.
    At the door stood a soldier, ferocious and bold.
    ‘King Herod’s the boss; I just do as I’m told.’

    With that, he tried to push Arty aside.
    ‘Let me pass! I have orders to kill the child.’
    Artaban knew he must help if he could,
    So he took out the ruby which flashed red as blood.

    ‘Will you promise to go and leave us alone
    If in exchange I give you this stone?’
    Well, the soldier couldn’t believe his eyes.
    Never before had he seen such a prize.

    This was a fortune and his lucky day
    So he accepted the ruby and went on his way.
    ‘Thank you, oh thank you!’ the young mother cried,
    ‘Without your kindness my child would have died.’

    ‘Your baby’s life is more precious to me
    Than any gemstone could possibly be.
    And now it is time for me to go,
    But where I’m going, I don’t really know.

    The meaning of life? I still cannot say,
    And two of my presents, I’ve given away.’
    Through hot summer sun and cold winter rains
    Artaban travelled across lonely plains.

    He searched towns and villages everywhere,
    Journeyed to Egypt when he heard He was there.
    He still had one present that he wouldn’t let go –
    The beautiful pearl, as white as the snow.

    Years rolled on by, heart and body were sore.
    Where was the King he was searching for?
    Then thirty years later, on festival day,
    To Jerusalem city he made his way.

    There, he found people selling and buying.
    And Artaban noticed a young woman crying.
    To his horror he saw that her hands were tied,
    While ‘Who’ll buy this slave?’ a cruel man cried.

    ‘How much do you want for her?’ Artaban called.
    He felt shocked to the core, completely appalled.
    You buy the girl?’ the wicked man jeered.
    ‘Slaves cost money, I’ll tell you,’ he sneered.

    Artaban sighed. He was filled with despair.
    He checked in his belt, there was no money there.
    What could he do? He must save the girl.
    And then he remembered – he still had the pearl!

    The wicked man’s eyes were gleaming with greed.
    ‘A girl for a pearl – a bargain indeed.’
    Artaban sighed, he was feeling bereft.
    Now he’d given the pearl he had no presents left.

    Thank you,’ the girl said, ‘for setting me free.
    But a pearl is worth a lot more than me.’
    ‘No,’ Artaban said. ‘I must disagree.

    More important than pearls is your right to be free.’

    From down the street then, an angry noise came,
    From men brandishing sticks and calling a name.
    In the midst of the mob a poor man stood.
    He was wearing a crown and was covered in blood.

    ‘He’s the king of the Jews,’ somebody said.
    ‘So he’s wearing a crown of thorns on his head.’
    ‘No!’ Artaban gasped, crying out loud.
    ‘It can’t be,’ he moaned, stumbling into the crowd.
    ‘It’s Jesus of Nazareth,’ an old woman said.

    And Artaban stood there, just nodding his head.
    ‘He’s the One,’ he said, ‘in my heart I know.
    I started my search for him ages ago.
    Now they’re going to kill him,’ Artaban groaned.
    ‘And I’ve given away everything that I owned.’

    ‘Tell me,’ the old woman said, ‘please do!’
    So he told her the story as we’re telling you.
    She stood still for a while then said, ‘Listen to me.
    You’ve discovered the meaning of life, can’t you see?

    What is a sapphire’s glittering wealth,
    Compared to the gift of a dying man’s health?
    What greater present can anyone give
    Than that of a new baby’s right to live?

    And what greater donation could there ever be
    Than the chance that you gave that young girl to be free?

    Artaban, your gifts have set you apart –
    The gifts of a kind and a loving heart.’

Time for reflection

Ask the children to take up their tableaux once again, and leave a pause, so they can reflect on the story that they’ve just heard and seen.

What would they have done if they were Artaban?



Dear God,

People dancing, laughing, playing,

Round a festive Christmas tree,

Having happy, fun-filled times,

We pray that it will always be.

Families loving, caring, sharing

That special kind of Christmas bliss,

Giving so much more than presents,

Oh may it always be like this.

Best friends helping one another,

Lending, giving, smiling, singing.

Now’s the time to stop and think

Of all the joy we’re giving.

People working hard, and praying,

In many different foreign lands.

We want to live in peace together,

Our future’s in our hands.

Let’s take time to look around

In all the bustle and the shout

And think of that first happy Christmas,

And what it was all about.  



‘Once in royal David’s city’

Publication date: December 2009   (Vol.11 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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