Happy Epiphany!

Professing Faith
Gregory Elder

I am standing in the asile of a local merchant, of whom many readers would recognize the name.  Mercifully all those plastic Santas have been removed and the plastic pointsettias have been returned to whatever planet they came from.  But something more disturbing is going on.  For foot after foot, where the tinsel and wrapping paper stood only hours ago, are row on row of new decorations, all set up for Valentine’s Day.  Red hearts, candies, cards all adorned with little cupids grace the stores.  My visit occured on December 26.

Mind you, I do not have anything against Valentine’s Day, either in the form of getting the esteemed wife a nice card, nor do I have anyting against the poor Bishop of Turin for whom the day is named, who managed to get himself slaughtered by the Emperor Trajan.  But its still Christmas for goodness sake.  and what is more, gentle reader, it will still be Christmas until tomrrow, January 6th, the proverbial Twelth Day of Christmas when we get the twelve lords a leaping and the day for whom crafy old Bill Shakespeare wrote a play.

The Twelth Day of Christmas is, of course, Epiphany.  Once upon a time, January 6th was the day on which many Christians in the eastern half of the Roman Empire celebrated the birth of Christ.  Other imperial Romans marked the day as the festival of the day on which Jesus was supposed to have been baptized by John in the River Jordan, and many Eastern Orthodox Christians still commemorate it in this manner.  Christians in the Western Roman Empire marked December 25 as Christmas and this day eventually became the standard day to remember the birth of Jesus.  This left January 6 as a holy day in search of a meaning, but by the 4th century AD it had been transformed into a commemoration of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentles.  Leo I, who became pope in AD 440,  made a special day of January 6, and selected the story of the visitation of the Magi to the Christ Child as the reading for mass on the day, and the festival became standardized.

Epiphany, or Twelth Night, has been celebrated in a number of interesting ways.  In Medieval times, in monasteries and cathedrals, a “boy bishop? would be selected, who was dressed in the robes of a Catholic Bishop and enthroned, to represent the fact that in the kingdom of God all the small are raised up and the great brought low.  In palaces, the “lord of misrule? would be chosen from the lowest servants, who was allowed to openly insult the king and the barons and make naughty comments to the ladies, to remind all of the vanity of worldly goods, beauty and power.  Quite often, a lot of liquid refreshement would be consumed on these occasions by all social classes.

In Germanic and Northern European countries, it is still quite common to have an Epiphany Cake, with a coin baked inside, and whoever is served the slice with coin will certainly have good luck in the new year.  The guests all wear
paper crowns to recall those ancient kings of the gentiles to mind.   In
England, in those homes where the weighty Christmas pudding was not served on Christmas Day, it appears on Epiphany.  This massive gastronomic asteroid is a fruit cake composed of fruits, spices, suet, flour, nuts, butter and a lot of things you would prefer not to know, very liberally doused in brandy and set on fire.  My father in law observed, “the gravy is the best part of it?
and I am looking forward to my own flaming slice tomorrow evening.  On Epiphany Day, the British Monarch solemnly offers gold, pure, or “frank?
incense and myrrh in the Chapel Royal before an image of the Christ child and the holy family, to represent that the kings of this world hold their thrones from the king of kings.

But as I stand on December 26 in the local merchant’s asiles, staring at the Valentine’s Day garbage, there are no magic coins, no cakes nor kings, no flaming puddings and no Lord of Misule, no boy bishop and no paper crowns, no frankincense or ceremony, no lords a leaping – only the next synthetic paper day on the secular calendar and we are all the sadder for the loss of a fine old holy day of frivolity and grace.  I paid for my purchases and wandered into the parking lot to drive home in my beat up Honda.  Perhaps we’re all gentiles now, patheticly waiting for the manifestation of the great King who must come again one day.

Professing Faith
Redlands CA  92375-1302


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