Today is the very last day of Christmastide, Twelfth Night, and tomorrow begins the season of Epiphany. This is also one of my favorite seasons of the year! Many families make a cake for Twelfth Night, with a bean or pea tucked inside it for a little Queen or King to find! In England, Twelfth Night is a festive time for merriment and good cheer! (Wassail is a beverage associated with this night as well). In Germany, children dress up as the Three Kings and go from house to house to collect money for a charity (and usually get a sweet or two for themselves and their fine singing!) In Scandinavian countries, there may be a procession of singers led by “Star Singers” that move from house to house. Russian children wait for Mama Babouschka to fill their shoes with gifts, as children in Spain wait for gifts from the Three Magi. Italian children wait for Old Befana to bring gifts as well. French families typically share a Kings’ Cake.
The day after Twelfth Night is Epiphany. Epiphany is actually one of the very oldest Christian festivals. If you are wondering what Epiphany/Three Kings Day/Theophany is all about, Christians in the Western Church celebrate that the 12th night after the birth of Jesus that the Three Kings/Three Wise Men were led by a star to find Him in Bethlehem. They brought gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. It is traditionally the time to take down the Christmas tree and all decorations (although some traditions do leave the Christmas greenery up until Candlemas on February second). If you have had the Three Kings traveling around your room to reach the now upright Jesus and St. Mary, that scene can also stay up until Candlemas (February 2).
If you are wondering about the Three Kings, the authors of “All Year Round” write, “In the Gospel story we hear about Wise Men guided by a star; they are never referred to as kings, nor is it said that there are three of them. An unknown but powerful tradition has transformed these sages (the “Magoi” were Persian priests of the Zarathustrian religion) into three kings, representing them as young, middle-aged and old, and sometimes of three different races: the African, the Caucasian, and the Asiatic. They have also been given names: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.”
Besides the Three Kings, also celebrated is the Baptism of Jesus and The Divine Manifestation of the Holy Trinity and the Revelation of Jesus to Man. There were some great pictures of people celebrating The Feast of Theophany (as the Orthodox church calls it), where waters are blessed and some people around the world plunge into cold waters in remembrance of this special day. See here for the pictures for this special blessing of the waters: http://sttheophanacademy.blogspot.com/2010/01/theophany.html
In some parts of Europe, it is customary to incense your house and cleanse it for this time. One then writes above the front door in chalk C+M+B flanked by the year (so for this year it would look like this: 20+C+M+B+19). The C,M,B may stand for the Three Kings themselves: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, although many of German friends say the C,M,B stands for “Christ Bless This Home” or a variant of that.
Some other fun ways to celebrate Twelfth Night and Epiphany tomorrow: Continue reading