Ramble: Feast of the Epiphany

January 6th and the year is underway. Still the echo of Christmas is across Christian land as today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day the three wise-men arrive and offer their gifts to the the new born king. In many ways today is the day that gifts should really be given and not December 25th.

Some still celebrate this day as a little Christmas – I used to leave small gifts out for my kids to find when they were little. Now they’d rather get some money or borrow my car!

Enjoy the day!


Twelfth Day of Christmas: Twelve Drummers Drumming

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On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Twelve Drummer Drumming…

January 5th  is here and so this is the “Twelfth Day of Christmas.”  In the Christian calendar  this is listed as the traditional feast day for  St. Julian the Hospitaller. In the UK it is the feast day of St. Edward the Confessor (also known as King Edward the Confessor). A more modern Saint honoured on this day is St. John Neumann. That is a lot of saintliness for one day!

You can read the Wikipedia entries I have linked above so I won’t spend too much time on the details of their lives of these Saints. St. Julian the Hospitaller, the patron saint of travelers,  has an interesting myth associated with him where he is tricked into killing his parents. St. Edward, the patron saint of difficult marriages (yes before there was an App for there – that was a Saint for that…), was the only King of England to be canonized.

The modern saint of the day – St. John Neumann – was a Bishop of Philadelphia, living in a time when there was a rabid anti-catholic sentiment in the USA. Feelings were so strong that there were burnings of Catholic Churches, schools and seminaries.  It is a fascinating parallel to the strong feelings currently sweeping through the USA – especially related to “non-Christians”. Politically this lead to the Know Nothing movement and included the 1852 American Party which reads like an ancestor of the Tea Party movement. Its main platform was opposition to all foreigners (especially non-Protestants), and its motto was “Americans must rule America.” The more things change the more they stay the same!

Now that has very little to do with Christmas as a celebration  – but it sure is a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of US politics and world social movements.

In the secular traditions of Christmas this is Twelfth Day, and tonight then is Twelfth Night. Most of us know the the Twelfth Night as a play be Willaim Shakespeare. The title of Twelfth Night refers to the magic that flows into the world during Christmastide, as the old order of the world is over-turned by the coming of  Christ. The play itself reflects the Carnivalesque atmosphere of Yuletide – where things are reversed and confused and involves cross-dressing, switching of roles (master becomes servant – servant is master). Christmastide reflects the essential fact that Christianity has rather rebellious roots at its foundation.  A virgin has a child – and that child is the divine become human. The barrier between heaven and earth is breached and will never be the same.

Twelfth Night as the Eve of the Epiphany, and as a Christmas tradition, is a day of celebration and carousing. It is a festive occasion marked by merrymaking, feasting and drinking. The wassail punch of the song “Here We Come a Wassailing” is an important part of the English tradition for Twelfth Night. The carol itself has become associated with Christmas Eve, however more traditionally it was part of Twelfth Night celebrations.  This is a night for singing, dancing, drinking and celebrating.

The modern Twelfth Night is now the traditional time for Christmas decorations to be removed and put away. Any edible decorations are distributed and eaten. My parents would have colorfully wrapped marzipan on our Christmas tree – and any we hadn’t already consumed would be eaten that night. My mother always pretended surprise at the many wrappers stuffed with tissue – the delightful marzipan somehow transmuted into paper.

In the Christian context, Twelfth Night is celebrating the Eve of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th is the day the three wise men arrive and the “manifestation” of god as human within the infant Jesus. This is part of the “upside-down” nature of Christmastide. On Christmas eve, the birth of Jesus is revealed to the animals in the stable, and then announced to the ordinary people first – “shepherds watching their flocks by night.” The elite of the world must wait until later for the revelation of the manifestation of god. With the appearance of the three wise-men and their gifts worthy of  a King bestowed the promise of Christmas is delivered into the world.

Since the actual day of the Epiphany is a joyous and solemn event  – Twelfth Night is then a chance to revel in the unfettered  merriment of Christmastide one last time. Perhaps having a hang-over makes for quiet worship the next day.

So on this Twelfth Night – eat, drink and be merry!


Eleventh Day of Christmas: Eleven Pipers Piping

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Eleven Pipers Piping…

January 4th  is here and so this is the “Eleventh Day of Christmas.”  In the Christian Christmas tradition this is the octave day for the feast of the Holy Innocents. The saint venerated today is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint.

In reading the Wikipedia entry on Elizabeth Ann Senton it seems she was a woman who encountered many difficulties and tragedies through her life, and through her faith she was able to overcome that adversity. She was born into a family of standing and so had access to an education, and to resources to assist her in her struggles. Still she could have simply withdrawn from the world and avoided the world – instead she used her standing, and resources to improve education. This is why she is considered the patron saint of Catholic Schools in the United States.

As the major feast is the last day of the octave for the Feast of Holy Innocents – it is strangely fitting that the Saint of the day be considered a guardian of schools. While much of the Christmas season is focused on joy and celebration, the secondary themes of tragedy and sorrow are also part of the Christmas tapestry. The Feast of the Holy Innocents is not a prominent part of our current cultural experience – yet with the horrible memory of the shooting at Sandy Hook and in Peshawar, Pakistan still fresh in our minds it now seems that this is part of the season we need to remember.

There is no standard music specific to this day, and the carols and hymns of the previous days are still part of the rituals of tradition. Since the Eleventh day of Christmas has Pipers Piping I think I will find a nice bit of pipe music.

According to the National Days listings for the US – today is National Spaghetti Day. A nice big bowl of pasta seems appropriate. I like mine with a meat sauce – and lots of fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Mmmm.

Happy New Year – and Merry Eleventh day of Christmas!

And now I think I need a drink – so here is a drink for the eleventh day of Christmas involving scotch (in honour of pipers of course!). It is more complicated than I would might make – usually I just skip straight to the scotch.

 


Tenth Day of Christmas: Ten Lords-a-Leaping

On the tenth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Ten lords-a-leaping…

January 3rd  is here and so this is the “Tenth Day of Christmas.” To tell the truth all this Christmas-ing and celebrating is making me  wee bit tenth myself! All these birds and people bouncing about would make for once hectic household.  In the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas this day – like yesterday – seems rather ambiguous. Perhaps a day for quiet reflection. In the official Christian feast days today is the Feast of St. Genevieve. Genevieve is the patron Saint and protector  of Paris.

Apparently St. Genevieve lived in Paris in the during the 400’s when there was much turmoil across Europe. Much like today where hordes of bankers and money-lenders pillage the land. Back then it was Attila the Hun, and other wandering barbarians like the Visigoths. Huh – now that I think about it not much has really changed.

St. Genevieve apparently acted as what we would call today a “human rights worker” by making sure that food and aid went to those in desperate need of help. The directly Saintly part comes later after her death when she is credited (through prayer) with helping avert a medical disaster that was sweeping through Paris.

In the USA today is National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day. I had no idea we actually celebrated such rare and treasured parts of our North American culture. So raise a chocolate covered cherry and enjoy. These are deadly little confections of delight – so I would suggest controlling your access to these treats.

Given how the days seem to trail off into ambiguity and mostly “meh” I can see why we rarely celebrate all twelve days any more. It does get better so please do bear with me as we get through the final days of Christmas!

Here is hoping you enjoy the Tenth day of Christmas – with a cherry on top!


Ninth Day of Christmas: Nine Ladies Dancing

On the ninth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
nine ladies dancing…

January 2nd  is here and so this is the “Ninth Day of Christmas.” One would think after all  these festivities and frolics of the previous days, it would be difficult to find nine ladies dancing. On the other hand after all the food and drink of the the last few weeks – perhaps dancing is just what the personal trainer ordered!

The celebrations and significance of the first eight days of Christmas seems fairly clear. Probably because it is the eight days from Christmas to New Year’s day. January 2nd seems muddled in the meaning of the day. Perhaps that is because after all this celebrating a break is needed!

I find in several references that today is referred to as the Octave of St. Stephen. I had never heard of an Octave before in the spiritual sense – only in the musical sense! An Octave in the sense of the Christian Church is a period of eight days focused on the contemplation of a particular concept. The Octave of St. Stephen seems to be focused on the concept of sacrifice and devotion. As the Octave of St. Stephen is also overlayed with the Octave of the Christmas (which runs from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day) it seems the celebration of St. Stephen is subsumed by the larger events.

Today is also in the feast day of St. Basil the Great. St. Basil was an important scholar on early Church doctrines.  Many of his writings shaped the thought of the early Church, and helped clarify many of the concepts central to Christianity. He is recognized as an important theologian by all branches of Christianity, and venerated by both the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity.

St. Basil was born into wealth and privilege. Through that advantage of birth he was gifted with an extensive education in the knowledge of the world. He was apparently an observant and thoughtful man who applied his learning to morality and ethics. His many homilies on various topics touched on the importance of building community and helping others. His devotion to early Christianity caused him to give away his money to the poor, and to pursue learning and teaching as a way of life for the good of others. His example, and his biography, is perhaps one that should be given to our politicians to remind them of what it means to be “of service to others.”

Looking up foods for today I note that on the USA celebrations listing today is National Buffet Day. That makes perfect sense to me! All those leftovers who needs to cook? Haul out the leftovers and have a smorgasbord!

On the downside some cultures consider today the “unluckiest day of the year.” Mainly because all that good luck of the previous few weeks must be balanced out by fate! Of course that could just be the pessimists in the world looking for an excuse to party.

Hope you are having a Merry New Year on this the second day of the year – and the ninth day of Christmas.


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