Thursday, December 18, 2008


Merry Christmas to all our readers, and today for our 25 Days Of Christmas segment I'm going to expand on Bethany's Twelve Days Of Christmas piece by examining January 6, or the Twelfth Day Of Christmas. This is also known as the Epiphany.

The Epiphany is a feast day of Christmas, celebrating the revelation of God in human form through the birth of Jesus Christ and the visitation of the Magi, or the three Wise Men. In some churches, the childhood events of Jesus and His subsequent baptism at Jordan and the first miracle of the wedding at Cana are also celebrated. This day was established very early on January 6; there are ancient liturgies existing today that speak of Illuminato, Manifesto, Declarato, or Illumination, Manifestation and Declaration. The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian celebration was in the year 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus. By the year 534 the Western Church had separated the celebration of the Nativity into the feast of Christmas and set its date as December 25, reserving January 6 as a commemoration of the coming of the Magi. The Eastern Church continued celebrating January 6 for both occurrences, but later adopted December 25 to commemorate both Jesus' birth and the coming of the Magi, and leaving January 6 as a commemoration of His Baptism.

In many European cultures, Epiphany is a day of celebration, and bears some traditions that are much like our usual Christmas traditions. In the Netherlands and Belgium, children in groups of three, in costumes of the Wise Men, go door to door singing carols and usually receive gifts of coins or sweets. Many Spanish-speaking peoples leave their shoes out on Epiphany, along with drinks such as sweet wine and milk, small nibbles and fruits, and sometimes hay or grass for the camels of the Three Kings, who usually respond by leaving gifts or toys in the shoes. In France, a kind of king cake called a gateau Des Rios or gallete Des Rios is served, usually with a trinket or bean inside. The person who finds the bean is made King for the day. This same tradition is found in Spanish countries, who bake a roscon or sweet bread with both a trinket and a bean inside (the person getting the trinket is made king, while the person getting the bean is responsible for paying for the roscon). Both these traditions are similar to the King Cake tradition of Mardi Gras, which the Epiphany begins.

The Twelfth Night is also sometimes thought to fall on Epiphany, but it is actually the day before Epiphany, January 5. Twelfth Night celebrations sometimes last through Epiphany, and involve food and drink such as wassail (though typically consumed throughout Christmas, this is especially consumed on Twelfth Night) and king cakes. This began in Tudor England, and usually marked the end of a winter festival that began on All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween. On this day, roles were reversed between peasants and kings, and a special cake containing a bean was eaten. The person finding the bean was named the Lord Of Misrule, and ran the feast until midnight, when his 'reign' ended. The tradition can be traced back to pre-Christian festivals such as the Celtic Samhain and the Romans' Saturnalia feast. Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night was written especially for one of these celebrations and first performed in 1602 at Middle Temple Hall in England.

As you can see, the celebration of Christmas is long and enduring. The holidays arrive in winter, usually a dark and cold time of the year, but despite this, a holiday of hope has managed to endure to cheer the hearts of all people. Celebrate it well, and and Dickens said, keep it in your heart.

We wish all our readers only the best this holiday season, and we'll be back tomorrow for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas. See you then!

"Wherefore are these things hid? Wherefore have these gifts a curtain before 'em?" --from William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night