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Celebrating the Epiphany

Celebrating the Epiphany

The Epiphany is as major a Christian holiday as Christmas and Easter, but it isn't nearly as universally celebrated. Lean back into your faith by celebrating the presentation of Jesus to the Magi, and learn the reason behind the Twelfth Night.
CelebrationJoy Staff
Everyone's heard of the twelve days of Christmas, but do you know what they are? Most people assume the song refers to the lead-up to Santa, but it's actually about the twelve days between Christmas, the day of Jesus' birth, and the Epiphany, the day he was presented to the Magi. Celebrate this major Christian event with an Epiphany Mass, pageants and a feast.

When

The Epiphany falls on January 6th for most Christians, but Roman Catholics celebrate on the Sunday between January 6th and January 8th. If the 6th falls on a weekday, most churches will have early and late masses to help parishioners celebrate around their workday. Thinking of the Epiphany, colloquially as the Twelfth Night makes the date impossible to forget, as it falls twelve days after Christmas.

Mass

Mass is the focal point of this day, and the only gifts present are those the Magi brought to Jesus. An Epiphany Mass is the most majestic of the year, with a pre-Mass procession and offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh before Communion. Many parishes also put on children's pageants to re-enact the presentation of Christ to the Magi.

Even if you don't attend church regularly, the Epiphany is certainly a day not to be missed - not only for the pomp and show of an Epiphany Mass, but because the occasion being celebrated is incredibly touching. So touching, in fact, that celebrated 18th century composer J.S. Bach was moved to lighten his normally heavy tone to celebrate the joy of the day. His Cantatas Nos. 65 and 180, Sanctus and D and Mass in F, are believed to be his contribution to the Epiphany Mass celebrated in his Leipzig church.

Symbolism

Many Epiphany symbols are obvious - groupings of three symbolize the Magi and their gifts, and the five-pointed star represents their celestial navigator. Other customs aren't so obvious, but worth observing.

People traditionally bless their homes on the Epiphany. When the custom began in the Middle Ages, the local priest would go door-to-door and do the blessing - but that's rarely feasible today. Modern blessing are done by the family, but they are no less valid. Incense, holy water and hymn-singing by the whole family confers a special protection on a home, and allows everyone to feel a part of something holy. The blessing culminates in the door-marking - use chalk to write Anno Domini (the year) and CMB. The CMB refers to the Magi - Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar - but it can also stand for Christus mansionem benedicat - Latin for "Bless this house".

Feast

No major Christian holiday is complete without a feast, and the Epiphany is no different. Celebrations can take many forms, whether it's a family affair, a children-focused event or an adult's only dinner party. Many times, local custom influences the celebration - the Epiphany signifies the start of Carnival in New Orleans, and the King cake rules the day. In the Rocky Mountain region, the fruitcake toss is considered de rigueur.

Start your own Epiphany custom for your family. Gather the whole clan together after mass for an afternoon of food and games, and maybe put on a pageant of your own. Remember that the very foundation of all Jesus stood for was love and joy, and these are the same feelings the Magi experienced upon meeting Him. These should be the emotions of the day, so don't get bogged down in solemn devotion - God wants you to feel the joy of love that is his gift to you. Be with your family and friends, and revel in the warmth it brings.