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Catholic Activity: Celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany



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The feast of manifestation, or Epiphany, is traditionally celebrated the 12th day after Christmas, January 6th. In the dioceses of the United States this feast has been moved to the Sunday after January 6. Regardless of the day, this "Twelfth Night" should be a day of feasting and celebration. Florence Berger gives a picture of her family's celebrations, with ideas for a grownup party and children's party.


Then comes the greater feast of the Epiphany when the "Gentiles shall walk in Thy light and kings in the brightness of Thy rising." It was amazing to find how many of our friends and our children's friends had never heard of the Epiphany. Some were Catholics who had never realized that this day is really the Gentile's Christmas, our day of Christ's manifestation. They had heard of "Twelfth Night," but only as a night of feasting. Why there was feasting they had never thought to ask. Some were non-Catholics who had never heard of the three kings and their gifts. For this reason, we always plan to do a little entertaining and a little manifesting as well.

One year it was a children's party. As the young guests arrived, they were introduced with due pomp and ceremony to the three kings who stood in state on a velvet-covered table. Only Mary and Ann knew that the kings were milk bottles with soft puppet faces. The kings' hair and features were made with floss, and their regal clothing was cut from castoff Christmas wrappings.

Next, we told the children of a great star which had appeared in the sky, and "when the Wise Men saw the star, they said to one another, `This is the sign of the great King; let us go and search for Him, and offer Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.'" Freddie was the gift bearer. The rest of the group was divided into three sections, each belonging to one of the kings. They pretended to be camel drivers or soldiers or servants.

They began the exciting journey. The children had made a paper road to Bethlehem beset with pitfalls and terrors. The kings advanced much as the pawns in Parcheesi, but such troubles they had! Camels were sloughed in the mud of the Jordan; robbers lay in wait near Jericho. Still the kings advanced with their rooting retinues until they found the crowned Christ child in the crib under the Christmas tree.

For refreshment we served the traditional Twelfth Cake. Ann was our baker.

Ann topped the cake with a beautiful crown of gum drops. Inside the cake, she hid three beans. The child who received a piece of cake with one of the beans became one of the kings for the rest of the party. Anyone who forgot to address him by his correct and kingly name had to give a forfeit. This was religious education which appealed to eye, ear, nose, touch, taste and tummy.

Another Epiphany entertainment for the grownups was a dinner party in the regal manner. When we planned the party, with its gilded invitations, we were reminded of part of Gerald Kelly's poem:

A Housewife To Our Lady

Dear Mother of God, sure I know how you felt When the Kings in their finery entered and knelt To adore the Gosson as He lay at your side 'Twas a black bitter blight on the bloom of your pride, And they kneeling and offering royal gifts up To have nothing to give them for bite or for sup. I oft do be thinking, and I brewing my tea How shamed I'd have been, had it happened to me.

The same thought must have passed through the minds of women centuries ago — or why did they cook such royal dinners on Twelfth Night?

When our guests arrived with the winter winds still whistling in their ears, we had a punch bowl of Lambs' Wool waiting to greet them. This is a hot drink which dates from times before the advent of distilled liquors.

As Herrick advises:

Crown the bowl full With gentle lambs wool— Add nutmeg, sugar and ginger, With store of ale too And this ye must do To make the wassail a swinger.
If the ale seems too different, make a fireside punch. Your party will be friendlier if your guests can dip their own punch from your fireside bowl. How stiff and stilted is a cocktail shaker in comparison!

We had planned for this dinner long ahead when we butchered one of our lambs. We cut the short lamb chops part way and turned them into a large crown roast. At party time the roast was browning beautifully in the oven. We had sprinkled it with thyme when two-thirds done, and the whole house was fragrant with the odor. The Greeks never roast lamb without the addition of thyme. Lamb is far richer for the herb. The ends of the chops were decorated with paper frills before serving, and the roast was fit for a king. Centuries ago roast lamb was served at Epiphany in honor of the Kingship of Christ and the Magi who visited Him.

On Epiphany, Christ was made manifest by the shining of a great star. Today Christ continues to make Himself known to us with the same spiritual illumination. The six Sundays which follow Epiphany are known as the time of manifestation. It was difficult for men to realize that God was living among them 1900 years ago. Today we, too, forget that all grace comes through Him, that our life is one with Him and our salvation is in Him. In order to convince His followers of his Divinity, He resorted to miracles — godly acts which mere man could not fathom. These miracles are related in the manifestation gospels. He changes water into wine. He cures the centurion's servant from a distance. He commands the sea and the winds and they obey. With such miracles He proved His Divinity and called those who loved Him to a new apostolate.

One after another declared their all embracing faith. Simeon held the Christ and declared that he had seen the salvation of all men. Do we in our homes see Christ in "the little children who round the table go?" The blind man of Jericho suddenly saw the Savior after years of darkness. What in his blindness had been but a man passing by became for him God whom he now glorified. Do we in our families see the Christ in our husbands and wives or are we still walking in blindness? Can we who have seen nineteen centuries of Christians and multitudes of miracles refuse to believe? Once we are conscious of the infinite price which Christ paid for our souls, our eyes are opened to see our shortcomings.

Activity Source: Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 4625 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50310, 1949, 1999