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What Do You Know About Epiphany?

Staff Member
What Do You Know About Epiphany? - January 04, 2006

If you thought Christmas was safely over on December 25th, you are missing out on some of the more meaningful and theologically rich traditions of this season!

According to one Web site looking at early Colonial history in the U.S., "Celebrants in the 18th century saw Christmas Day itself as only the first day of festivities. Probably because customs then were fewer and preparations simpler, colonial Virginians looked to the twelve days beyond December 25 as a way to extend and more fully savor the most joyful season of the year" writes Emma Powers in "Christmas

Customs" (http://www.history.org/Almanack/life/xmas/customs.cfm).
There is still one Christmas holiday ahead, and that is Epiphany. One of my daughters became good friends with a young man in her workplace who is from Jewish background. When she mentioned Epiphany he asked, "What is that?"

Familiar to most Catholics and those in the Greek Orthodox tradition, Epiphany, or "Day of the Three Kings" on January 6th marks the time when the small Jewish child Jesus (not really a baby as so often depicted in greeting cards) is shown to the Magithe three kings from the Orient who were obviously not of the Jewish faith. Theologically we take that to mean that Jesus is for the whole world- Jews and non-Jews alike.

I never thought too much about this day of the church calendar until the year I lived in Barcelona, Spain. There I was surprised to see that shopping was really only getting into full swing by December 26th, as people prepared for January 6th. There was a parade down the main boulevard around December 28th; the three kings arrived sashaying on camels (instead of Santa/sleigh). Then the three kings took "gift suggestions" from children at booths on the sidewalk in front of the city's main department store.

In the boarding house where I lived in Barcelona, the two small children of the owner's family placed their shoes at the fireplace to be filled by the three kings. A plate of good Spanish bread and little shot glasses of cognac were left for the "kings" to enjoy.

When our children were younger, we observed Epiphany by finally having the three wise men and their camels arrive at the manger scene. Our church also has a tradition of people signing up to host "Epiphany dinners" in homes, and others indicate they'd like to be guests. Each person or family contributes to the shared meal, and all seem to enjoy a final night of celebrating the warmth of the holiday season.

While some say the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song that counts off the days of the "Twelfth Night" season were a type of Christian catechism teaching children symbolic truths, others say it is nothing more than a silly (and we might add monotonous) counting song.

Here are some other Epiphany or "Twelfth Night" customs you might consider for your family:

On January 6th, read the story about the visit of the Magi from the Bible, and talk to your children about why this probably happened when Jesus was two years old or so. If you have a nativity set, move the wise men close to the manager and put away the shepherds.

Light a candle each night as you have your evening meal in recognition of the first, second, third day (and so on), of Christmas.

Have small gifts for each of the twelve days of Christmas, or save and open some of the "extra" gifts that always seem to arrive under the tree, to spread out the joy and the fun. This may seem excessive, but maybe not if the gifts or surprises are a piece of gum, a pencil, a sticky note pad, or a backrub. (Still, you may not want to put any more emphasis on gifts or surprises than you already have. Enough already!)

Invite another family or someone over to have your own "Epiphany" dinner sometime during the twelve days. So often we rush to have parties in the days before Christmas and it is nice to have something special going on as you head back into the dreary (to me) days of January.

Submitted by Melodie Davis
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