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:
You could bake a cake – either a Kings’ Cake or make the Epiphany Cake on page 242 of “All Year Round” or the “Galette des Rois” on page 154 of “Festivals Family and Food.” You could also make wassail or some sort of spiced cider. In the past, some years I have made a cake with a bean or baby Jesus to find, and in some years I have done this with a rice pudding.
You could make Twelfth Night a night of games and merriment in your family, complete with riddles to solve, puzzles, games.
You could take down your Christmas Tree and all greenery. In “All Year Round”, the authors suggest “If the Tree disappears from the house mysteriously overnight, the place where it stood will appear less empty if a bowl of sprouting crocus or hyacinth bulbs are found there – a token of springtime yet to come.”
You could remember Three Kings Day in a quiet way and read the Gospel accounts of the Three Kings, perform a play as a family, and sing songs special to the occasion. You could also tell a story – the Legend of the Baboushka, or “An Epiphany Story of the Tree” on page 157 of “Festivals Family and Food”. Some children will receive gifts the morning of Epiphany!
You could prepare for Plough Monday, the Monday after Epiphany. This used to be the official start to ploughing in England, and is often seen as a general “clean up” day to officially end the Christmas season.
Heading into later January, I love to switch out our Nature Table to a light blue cloth with crystals, a vase of silver-coated branches, and a King Winter. Some will have an upright Toddler Jesus and St. Mary in their nature space. I also like January in order to make rose windows, window stars, and stained glass triptychs. When I make some this month, I will try to put up some step-by-step photos on Instagram!
I hope you are having a lovely season!
Blessings and love,