The Feast of the Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January sixth. This celebration marks the visit of the magi to see Jesus and worship him as the newborn King of the Jews. It is the end of the Christmas holidays as they used to be celebrated and in my own opinion should still be celebrated. Put the tree up later bake some treats after Christmas, maybe even save some gifts for this particular feast. Remember this celebrates the first people outside of Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds who knew who Jesus was.
I often wondered what the word epiphany means. I had never really heard the word used outside the context of the holy day. Epiphany means a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being. In this case, the birth of Christ is revealed to the whole world the Jewish people being represented by the Shepherds and the gentile world is represented by the magi.
Matthew’s Gospel is the only Gospel that tells of the visit of the kings and you can read it there. Time and tradition have embellished the story what we do know for sure is the Magi came from the east following a star. The star disappeared as they approached Jerusalem and they went to King Herod who ascertained from the scriptures where the child would be born and sent the magi on their way telling them to come back and report to him when they had found the child so that he could worship him as well. Herod was deceiving the Magi as he desired to kill the child. As the Magi left Jerusalem the star reappeared and led them to a house where they found the baby and his mother Mary and presented gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and returned to their homes using a different route.
That’s what we know. Here is what we have embellished. It was at some time decided that there were three of them. That they were not only Magi but Kings and that their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Belshazzar. Also, that each was of a different race. One white, one Asian, and One Black.
The Feast of Epiphany is also the twelfth day of Christmas as you may remember from the song the gift was twelve drummers drumming. These twelve drummers are meant to represent points of belief in The Apostles Creed.
The Feast of the Epiphany is also known as 12th Night and it is the last day of Christmas. There used to be 12th Night parties where games like Snapdragon were played. I have always wanted to try to play Snapdragon. The game is mentioned in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and also in Agatha Christie’s Halloween Party. The game is pretty simple. You get a big plate full of raisins you douse the raisins with plenty of brandy and light it on fire. You then try to pick raisins out of the blazing plate without getting burned. And yes this was a children’s game.
There is also a 12the Night Cake. It is made from Puff Pastry and filled with almond crème. In the cake is placed a ring or a tiny baby representing Jesus. Whoever gets the slice of cake with the ring or the baby gets declared King of the Feast and is given a crown to wear.
Of course, all of this is gone now. The Catholic Church has moved the Feast of Epiphany to the Sunday after Christmas and not many protestant churches recognize it at all, at least not in the United States. And yet we sing about it. We Three Kings is the song of the magi. It’s not a Christmas Carol but a 12th night song. And The Little Drummer boy which is completely fictitious is also a staple throughout the Christmas season but is never heard after Christmas as it should be.
Some biblical historians believe that the magi arrived about two years after Jesus’ birth. There is some logic behind this. The scriptures tell us that the Magi found the child in a house which means they had moved out of the stable where Jesus was born. Herod asked the Magi when the star appeared and when he realized that the Magi were not coming back to him had all the babies two years and younger killed in Bethlehem. This is known as The Slaughter of the Innocents and is the basis for another Christmas carol The Coventry Carol. It is thought that the star appeared on the night of Jesus’ birth and it took two years for the Magi to reach him.
I am of the school of thought that says we go back to the old ways. Let’s celebrate all 12 days of Christmas. Let’s not set up our trees right after Thanksgiving but just a day or two before December 25th. Let’s have parties and gatherings straight through until January the sixth and have one last fling that night before we enter into our dull winter routines. Christmas could be more fun that way and maybe even less stressful. We could have dinner parties for twelve nights straight and see all of our family members. Those twelve days, if observed could bring a whole new dimension to Christmas.
On January the sixth let’s take a moment to remember what the word epiphany means. >The manifestation of a divine being”. It is acknowledging to the world that we believe Jesus was fully God and fully man as the scriptures attest to. In many ways, it is an act of faith to celebrate this day and one I believe we can all profit from.
It is said that two groups of people were allowed to see the baby Jesus those who knew they knew nothing, the shepherds and those who knew they didn’t know everything, the magi.