Today is Epiphany or as my mother used to call it “Little Christmas.” The gift-giving tradition can be traced to the Magi who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child. Since the Magi were not Jewish it also represents that Christ has come for all people. Epiphany falls twelve days after Christmas giving us one of the most hackneyed Christmas carols and the name of my favorite Shakespearean comedy (although what that play has to do with Twelfth Night, I do not know). It also gives us a great joke: “What would have happened if it had been three wise women instead of three wise men? They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and brought practical gifts.”
Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season and is the traditional day for taking down Christmas decorations. I bristle every time I pass a Christmas tree laying on the sidewalk for trash collection prior to January 6. Of course, since these days people are putting up Christmas decorations in November or even October, their trees are probably brittle with dryness long before now.
I think today also marks a beginning. When I worked at Colonial Williamsburg, I learned that colonial Virginians (presumably based on English tradition) began Christmas season on December 24th and celebrated on into early February. Similarily, the carnival tradition practiced in places like Europe, Brazil, and New Orleans begins now and builds up to great festivals culminating on the day before Lent begins, Ash Wednesday. In a sense having celebrated the birth of Christ, now we celebrate His life and ministry before joining him on the road to Jerusalem in Lent.
Epiphany is also the second of four manifestations of Christ in our midst. The first is of course the Nativity celebrated on Christmas day, next is the Baptism of Christ, and the fourth is the wedding at Cana, scene of Jesus’ first miracle. Brian from Baptized Pagan reflected on this aspect of Epiphany in his blog.
The word “epiphany” itself fascinates me. It comes from Greek meaning to “manifest” or “show forth.” The meaning in relation to the Jesus story is obvious as it is God manifest as human and shown to the Magi. But there’s also the more general meaning of epiphany as a sudden realization or understanding. I think of the writings of James Joyce such as The Dubliners where the stories capture epiphanies in the life of his characters (and all to often in the Joycean world those realizations are that one’s life is somehow meaningless). I looked in The Oxford English Dictionary for the etymology of this use of the word and surprisingly there is no secular definition.
So these are my meager reflections on the day. I found interesting reflections on today’s scriptures online at Living Space.