My kids greeted breakfast with loud proclamations of “Happy Three Kings Day!” Today, January 6th, is Epiphany (or Three Kings Day). It is traditionally the day of celebrating the arrival of the wise men, but many churches combine that with a celebration of Jesus’ baptism.
Most American Protestants don’t celebrate Epiphany. At least not in the way Christians do in other parts of the world or in more liturgical churches. My mother, who has been a believer since she was nineteen (I won’t share her age, but that’s a long time!) hadn’t even heard of it until this year when she and I discussed it. It’s funny because we all sing “The 12 Days of Christmas”, but few realize that, historically, the twelve days begin on December 25th and end on January 6th. We tend to start Christmas on Black Friday and close up shop on December 26th.
Our family doesn’t typically celebrate Epiphany either (though I do have a little unspoken rule that forbids the tree coming down until after January 6th), but a recent discussion on facebook has me considering the fun of doing so in the future. Here are some ideas people shared of what they do on this holiday.
“On Epiphany, the kids get one last gift, wrapped in gold paper. It’s nice because there is always some little thing they wanted for Christmas but didn’t get. And by New Years it’s on sale … Then we un-decorate. When the kids were little I had them look for the baby Jesus (doll) who was under the Star (cookie cutter) somewhere. They’d dress as the 3 Kings and hunt everywhere …We also make star cookies. Or star jello jigglers. Or make stars to hang. These traditions evolved over time.” ~ Valerie
“This year we made a paper chain of ‘good things of 2011’ to hang on the tree (yes after Christmas), bought and sent gift cards to three families we know who are going through some trying times right now, sat down and planned some volunteer activities for the new year…” ~ Dana
“Hay is left under the kids’ beds, to feed the camels. The hay disappears overnight and is replaced by gold foil chocolate coins … sort of like Santa and cookies.” ~ Marianne
A number of people mentioned Epiphany Cake or Kings Cake. I’ve not had one, but it sounds similar to what we call “Monkey Bread” — Cinnamon Rolls braided or balled up and baked. A Kings Cake, however, also has colorful (jewel-toned) sprinkles on top and something hidden inside, like a star cookie-cutter or kings’ treasure chest or something like that. Tradition dictates that whoever gets the prize will have good luck throughout the following year OR they have to make the Kings Cake for next Epiphany.
Now some of you may, in a similar fashion to my husband, respond to this frivolity with intellectual prowess, wondering where the foundation for all this lies. After all, we do not blindly follow traditions; we maintain a thinking faith, not one based on silly superstitions of baby Jesus baked in cakes. You’re right! But we do know that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were visited by wise men from the East, and that Jesus was baptized, both of which were significant events that further proved His diety and position as the Messiah. Why not celebrate them?
This link leads to an interesting article about the dates of Christmas, Epiphany and even Easter. It also talks about the assertion (valid or not) that Christmas stems from a pagan tradition.
Our devotion is purposeful and reasonable. If my husband ever gives me permission, I would love to share some of his biblical observations about the wise men. Excellent thoughts.
Your turn: Do you celebrate Epiphany or the 12 Days of Christmas? Share your traditions with us!(Please note that the above article links to an external site that promotes Orthodox Christianity. While I recommend the article, I cannot endorse everything on that website.)