Celebrating Epiphany and the Christmas Season
This post was originally published in 2013.
The Christmas season always seems over too quickly! It's not that we're packing the days full of activity, but rather our resting and relaxing and enjoying the Christmas glow makes time fly!
Our family observes the Twelve Days of Christmas only in small ways. Our celebrating during this time usually consists of enjoying family time. Daddy is home from work. We have time to play board games and watch Christmas movies together, and enjoy the new Christmas gifts (which of course means lots of Lego building) and work on some Christmas crafting. This Christmas my husband and the boys have done much more together without me, such as a few nature hikes at the Battlefield and Sky Meadows, due to my recovery from heart surgery. I reap the rewards, though, because they come home so relaxed and joyful. What is more fun than exploring nature and using sticks?
I'm not apologizing for the seemingly lack of celebration here. I think it's become a mistaken idea is that one must have a party and dessert and a craft for every feast day. The phrase “Living the Liturgical Year” has been turned into “Celebrating the Liturgical Year”. But what does celebrating mean? Celebrating in the Church’s eyes is different than partying. It is incorporating both interior and exterior acts—and not in the same way for every feast. "To celebrate" in the liturgical sense does not have to translate to extra sugar consumption and leftover craft chaos. The author Mary Perkins Ryan from Beginning at Home explains:
The ideal is to orient every element in our daily lives—prayer, study, work, play—toward the celebration of each feast or season, to allow the special light and grace and vitality of each feast and season to permeate every aspect of our lives. The word “celebrate” comes from a Latin root meaning “to frequent,” to gather in crowds. So we should gather ourselves and our lives round the Church’s feasts and fasts if we are to celebrate them fully.
So we are gathering around the feasts, but in less physical ways. The Christmas season is so different than the Easter season with all the varied feast days, so it is important to introduce the Christmas cast of saints to my younger son. I usually do this with reading picture or story books at bedtime, or working on coloring pages with discussion. While there are myriads of free beautiful coloring pages on the Internet, I could not keep up with finding and printing each feast day. Last year I bought the Liturgical Year Coloring Book by Mary MacArthur and found it to be a lifesaver! The cost averaged a little more than $2 for over 20 pages per month, and I could print and bind a month at a time. The images are beautiful, with great symbolism. My older son doesn't like to color as much, but he loves looking at the illustrations and and looking up the symbols and stories. I highly recommend this resource for busy moms!
Although there are two solemnities this week, my family is concentrating more on preparing for Epiphany. My last post mentioned that Christmas is the second highest feast of the Liturgical Year, but actually the Solemnity of Epiphany is another prominent feast, running . Originally the feast of Christmas was part of Epiphany for the first 200 years. Now the the feast encompasses three celebrations: Christ's Baptism, the Wedding at Cana, and the Manifestation to the Magi (Gentiles). This is illustrated in the Antiphons for the Canticle of Zechariah and Canticle of Mary from the Divine Office from Epiphany:
Today, the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in the Jordan's waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.
Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.
The Roman Ritual includes for Blessing of Water; Blessing of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh; Blessing of Chalk; and Blessing of the Homes all for the Solemnity of Epiphany. And although it is not necessary in time of calendars and digital age, the Roman Missal contains the Announcement of Easter and the Moveable Feasts, which is an ancient tradition, and hardly altered even since 1952.
The significance of the Baptism and the Blessing of Water has historically been emphasized more in the Eastern Church, to combat the early Gnostic heresy that Jesus was human and not divine until His baptism. The Western or Latin Church emphasizes more the manifestation through the Magi, known to be of Persian origin. We are not sure how many wise men did come to Bethlehem, but tradition usually says that it was three men, Melchoir, Caspar and Balthazar. Their relics are contained in the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany.
Since I was a young girl my family has always celebrated Epiphany in a special way. My parents would invite a priest for dinner and to bless our home, inscribing the initials and crosses above our door with the blessed chalk. I remember traveling in Europe with one of my sisters and we were so excited to see the same initials on a door in the cathedral in Prague. Suddenly our family tradition felt more universal.
I have always loved the words of the blessing. They remind me of the New Testament reading from the Feast of the Holy Family, from St. Paul to the Colossians, 3:12-21. I keep planning to write it in calligraphy to hang on my wall as a reminder:
Bless, + O Lord, almighty God this home that it be the shelter of health, chastity, self-conquest, humility, goodness, mildness, obedience to the commandments, and thanksgiving to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May blessing remain for all time upon this dwelling and them that live herein. Through Christ our Lord.
These are high goals to achieve, and obviously we can't have success without the help of God's grace!
Now that we are older and married and with children, Epiphany has become the day of our family Christmas gathering. The five siblings who live locally take turns hosting the Epiphany family celebration. We have a priest friend who has come for many years to enjoy the family time and bless the house. He books months in advance to fit into our busy schedules, his included. Our traditional dinner is usually lasagna, just because Father requests it. I normally make a King Cake, New Orleans style, because our family has south Louisiana roots.
Before there were any grandchildren, the "Kings" for the ceremony were the men in the family. But with so many grandchildren, we expand to include as many participants as possible. Three to six are chosen to write the initials and crosses above the door, but all the children play some role in being a "king" and adoring the Christ Child. Some years we have crafted crowns and capes, and each child has a small box or container (sometimes containing myrrh or frankincense) to present to the enthroned Christ Child. It is moving to see the children embrace their role, presenting their gifts and bowing in reverence just as the Wise Men did.
Now that we have more altar boys, the boys find other ways of participating for the Home Blessing. Father brings his holy water and walks through the house sprinkling all the rooms and nooks and crannies. The children love being "accidentally" sprinkled. After the celebration, each family goes home with blessed chalk and the father of each household repeats the prayer and puts the inscription above their door.
Every year looks a bit different, but we celebrate in the hope of going farther and deeper in adoring Christ and embracing His feast of great manifestation. We celebrate so that we may "allow the special light and grace and vitality...to permeate every aspect of our lives."
May your family be blessed during this Christmas season, and especially on Epiphany.
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