Celebrating twelve days of Christmas and Epiphany isn’t something that I had experienced or even seen when we began to celebrate the church year. It seemed a bit elusive to try to keep Christmas for twelve full days. My experience of Christmas had been a single day with more excitement and preparation than anyone could maintain for twelve days in a row.
To be honest, my first attempts at keeping the twelve days were a bit overwhelming. Over time we added in the feasts of Saint Steven, Saint John, the Holy Name and Holy Innocents and a gingerbread house tradition. All helped to mark the time.
But, for our family, the thing that has been the most helpful in celebrating the twelve days well is having strong Twelfth Night and Epiphany traditions. If we have a grand feast to look forward at the end of the twelve days, and some reflection, fun and service in between, Christmas does indeed feel like it is stretched over twelve days.
The past few years this has meant we have had a twelfth night feast. It is a fun meal with friends and good food. We decorate with window stars, camels, kings and other star decor. We save our Christmas Crackers for this night, which has the added bonus of providing paper crowns for everyone.
Before the meal the children don playsilk capes and crowns and sing “We Three Kings” as they carry the three magi to the manger. (They are placed far from the nativity scene in Advent and gradually draw near during the twelve days of Christmas.) The boys know the song well thanks to the beautiful illustrated version by Gennady Spirin which is a favorite Christmas book. We feast and then for dessert we share a Kings’ Cake and tea.
After the guests leave on twelfth night, my boys go outside to find grass to place in their shoes for the Wisemen’s camels. They leave a line of shoes by the door.
Each year the Wisemen leave something during the night to make the boys wise. (A book about nature or the Bible is typically placed under their shoes). Gold coins, candy gems and possibly some other trinket are inside their shoes. The grass has all been consumed by the camels.
Either on Twelfth Night or Epiphany we read the account of the Wisemen’s visit from Matthew. We remember that the wisemen are the first gentiles to recognize Jesus as the King. During Advent and Christmas we talk about what it means that he is coming as the Messiah that the Jewish people long for. It feels fitting to use Epiphany to remind ourselves that Jesus came not just as the Jewish Messiah, but as the savior of the whole world.
The season of Epiphany spreads out before us. We will take time to learn about Epiphany and how Simon and Anna, Paul, Peter and the Disciples at the transfiguration all realized something about who Jesus was on their respective feast days.
The single Feast day of Epiphany is our last celebration of the discovery of the infant Jesus. It sets the tone for the season to follow as we discover this child who received the prophetic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Does your family observe Epiphany? How?