Feliz día de Reyes! Have you had an epiphany yet?
Jan. 6th. The day we find out if Georgia will tip the Senate in terms of Democrats or if the Republicans will maintain the majority, thus gumming up Biden’s agenda. Tomorrow morning Americans will certainly have a “revelation” of sorts.
In Christianity, however, the Epiphany is the end of the 12 days of Christmas, which follow the birth of Jesus. (Some of you may have thought the 12 days of Christmas led up to Dec. 25th -- you'd be wrong! See what you can learn from my blog?! Alright, I didn't know this either.)
My family never celebrated what is called “The Three Kings’ Day” in Spain and many Latin American countries. "Día de los tres Reyes." However, since I grew up in a Cuban-American community in Jersey, I'd heard of it from my friends. Some talked about finding small gifts and candy in their shoes on the 6th of January. (The only thing I ever found was a balled up sock.) Jan. 6th also marked the day the Christmas tree must come down, if it hadn't already. Kind of a “last call” for Christmas.
So, what does “Epiphany” celebrate exactly?
As the story goes, this is the day the 3 wise men arrived at the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Fortunately for them, Mary and Joseph hadn't checked out yet. (It took them 12 days!? Oy. Where the heck did they stop off along the way? A falafel stand? A bazaar? "Hey, I could use a new rug. Let's stop!")
I can’t help thinking about the joke:
What would have happened if it had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?
They would have asked directions,
arrived on time,
helped deliver the baby,
cleaned the stable,
made a casserole,
and brought practical gifts.
But what they would have said when they left...?
"That baby doesn't look anything like Joseph!"
"Virgin, my arse! I knew her in school!"
"Want to bet on how long it will take until you get your casserole dish back?"
Sorry. I couldn't help it. Well, I could, but I didn't want to.
As the story goes, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar were the three kings, i.e., “Magi,” who arrived bearing gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. (Aren't we learning so much?!) We all know what gold is, but what about frankincense? Well, gold is a symbol of royalty, frankincense is an incense symbolizing a deity, and myrrh was used as an embalming oil – creepy gift at a baby shower! Better yet, some scholars say myrrh symbolized suffering. (Yikes. Who invited Balthazar? Such a Debbie Downer.)
Earlier in the story, the three kings were traveling together at the behest of King Herod. It had been prophesized in Micah 5:2 and 4 of the Torah that "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times . . . his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth."
Yeah, no. King Herod wasn't having none of that. Herod wanted to kill this new king so he would not grow up to threaten his own power. Oh, Herod did not reveal this to the three wise men. Herod was a sneaky dude. However, the three wise men were -- duh? Wise. They studied astrology and prophesy and coincidentally all had the same dream. Yeah, yeah, some say an angel appeared to them – but others say it was a dream. Tomatoe/tomato. In any case, the angel IN THE DREAM told them that this newborn king was actually the Messiah that had long been foretold to come save the world from its sin and Herod, who was fixated on the word "king" and not so much "messiah," planned to murder him. The angel instructed the Magi to follow the star in the sky, which would lead them to the newborn king who was waiting. Hello? 12 days, people! In a stable. You can't tell me that didn't get old:
Joseph: Mary, can we leave now?
Mary: Not yet. I have a feeling we're going to get some really cool baby gifts if we just hang around a little longer.
After following the star and seeing Mary and Jesus who were still in the stable, the Magi fell to their knees recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. (The star over the stable kind of gave that away.) Knowing they should not reveal Jesus's existence to Herod, they took a different route home in order to avoid Herod. I wonder how they dealt with the phone call later. "Baby? What baby? Nah, just some poor people in a stable. And a drummer. Nothing to see. But Melchior found a great deal on a rug."
How Epiphany Is Celebrated
So, there you have it. Around the world, people recognize the Epiphany (or 3 Kings’ Day) in various ways. In Belgium, kids dress up as the Magi and go from door to door singing and are given treats and gifts. (Kids gonna grub candy wherever they live.)
In Austria – this one is cool – people chalk the front of their homes with the number of the new year sandwiched around the initials of the 3 Magi. So, get out your chalk and write "20*C*M*B*21" on your front door. This is thought to give those who live there protection in the new year. Who couldn’t use a little extra protection as Covid continues to rage?
In Italy, children hang up stockings and believe that Befana, and old witch, brings them goodies. If they are bad, they get a lump of coal. She flies around on her broomstick (no sleigh for her) on Epiphany eve. This tradition precedes Santa Claus and may go back to the 8th c.
Some in New Orleans celebrate with a “king cake,” a coffee cake that is decorated with purple, green, and gold. A plastic baby is baked into it, and who ever gets the slice with the baby gets good luck – if they don’t choke on it – and is supposed to provide the king cake in the following year. (These are made, sold, and eaten all the way up to Ash Wednesday during Mardi Gras.)
Here’s a recipe that includes pecans and raisins.
My favorite tradition is in Ireland: “Nollaig na mBean” or Women's Christmas. Traditionally, the women get the day off and men do the housework and cooking. It is becoming more popular and many Irish women now get together on the Sunday nearest Epiphany and have tea and cakes. I have no idea how to say Nollaig na mBean, but this sounds like a wonderful tradition I plan to adopt. I guess you could say I had an epiphany.
Now, let's see what the GOP gets in their stockings on Jan. 6th. Will it be sweets or coal?