[Editor’s Note: Today’s post is taken from Bird Treacy’s substack ‘Wiggles and Wonder’ emailed to subscribers on January 2. It’s shared today with the author’s permission. If you have not yet subscribed to Wiggles and Wonder, I urge you to do today. Your at home and at church faith formation will be very grateful! —Allison, ed]
I feel a bit bad for the Magi this year. It’s hard enough to get folks into the church building between Christmas and Epiphany in a good year, but when there’s actually only one Sunday after Christmas and it’s is also New Year’s Eve, it’s undoubtedly even worse. Clergy friends, I hope you were able to squeeze a good nap into this sluggish attendance season.
All of this is to say, I put out my Epiphany house blessing supplies on the Third Sunday in Advent in hopes people would actually remember to grab them. If you could still use a simple tool for sharing this practice, I paired the postcard/graphic below with some sidewalk chalk to guide folks through it. Chalking the door is certainly an act that feels uniquely mysterious, this strange bit of code, this little incantation to open the year – plus an opportunity to write on your walls. What’s not to like?
Beyond the actual Feast of the Epiphany, what are we to do with this season? In most Episcopal parishes, our linens will revert back to the green of Ordinary Time and yet this season isn’t quite that. In fact, Epiphany, depending on your tradition, doesn’t have a well-fixed duration or meaning, in many ways. It might last a few days, until the Baptism of our Lord or it might stretch until Candlemas. It may seem to linger in the air until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (which, to be fair, is less than two weeks after Candlemas this year).
As a white American, I didn’t really give much thought to Epiphany until a few years ago, not long before I began writing here. Beginning in about 2018, my home parish was located in a predominately Latinx community, and I feel fortunate to have learned more about Epiphany traditions from some of my church school participants, whose family was from Puerto Rice (and, more recently, from children at a friend’s parish where I’ve done a little work). While the New England landscape outside my window is frosted over, it’s traditional to leave out a box of grass and some water for the Magis’ camels on the night before Epiphany; the Magi would leave gifts of thanks in their place. And, as opposed to the more typical consumption of King Cake at the end of Epiphany, as part of Mardi Gras, the King Cake eaten on Epiphany comes with an important job – making the tamales for Candlemas!
Epiphany isn’t until Saturday (maybe even Sunday if you’re focused on the date of celebration and your parish is moving the Feast – mine isn’t this year!), so you’ve still got time for a few preparations. Some resources I’d recommend:
- The Godly Play Epiphany story. This is, of course, my stating point. None of you are surprised by now! We don’t have an official video of this story, which makes sense as it’s a bit small and fiddly, but it’s a lovely introduction to this season, and a particularly rich multi-sensory lesson as it involves lighting the incense and smelling myrrh and the jingle of gold coins. Even if you abandon the script, these gifts can be a lot of fun to explore and, with funny words like frankincense and myrrh, it’s useful to have a way to make these gifts more concrete.
- En Coqui de Boriquen Con Los Reyes a Belén by Lara Mercardo. This book, available in Spanish or as a bilingual edition in English & Spanish, was written particularly for Puerto Rican children living across the United States and if you’ve got even a little Spanish understanding at your disposal, I highly recommend watching it as a read aloud. While I didn’t grow up with any understanding of Three Kings Day traditions in Puerto Rico, I definitely grew up with a friend who introduced me to coqui, the distinctive frogs that live on the island, and I love the intersection of the coqui and the kings!
- Explore The Stars! We often say that one of the most distinctive things about the Magi was their knowledge of astronomy, and astronomy is indeed an ancient science. What do scientists have to say about the star that led the Magi to Bethlehem? What kind of astronomical study did ancient scientists engage in? What stars (if any) can you see where you live and how are they useful to explorers, sailors, and other stargazers? I grew up with airplane lights, not stars, and I remain absolutely taken by staring up at the glittery night sky, especially when camping.
You might even look up when the next major event is taking place overhead, such as a meteor shower or a night when Jupiter is expected to be particularly bright and visible to the naked eye. Get in touch with that magical-Magi-science-knowledge! Just last night I learned that a total solar eclipse will be visible in the Adirondacks this April! I wonder what you’ll find out.
- Bless Family & Friends! Do you have a cluster of nearby family or close neighbors who might appreciate a House Blessing? Take your chalk on a walk, maybe even grab a few treats to share (as with St. Nicholas Day, “gold” chocolate coins remain a perfect option!), and surprise them with an Epiphany blessing.