Saturday, January 06, 2007

Happy Twelfth Night and Beginning of Epiphany

Twelfth Night is the evening of the last of the twelve days of Christmastide--so, last night or tonight, depending on how you count. It looks to me as if the timing of it varies by country rather than by whether one is Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or some other liturgical Protestant group.

Twelfth Night traditions vary according to country too. Twelfth Night is not a liturgical holiday--there are no readings or collects for it--and it was basically a big night for partying. It is similar in that way to Mardi Gras--sort of a secular holiday tied to the church calendar. It used to be a much bigger celebration than Christmas

There are several interesting points of cultural literacy, though, regarding Twelfth Night. Shakespeare wrote a play with that title, originally meant to be performed on that night. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, remember when Quasimodo is crowned King of Fools, or Lord of Misrule? His "reign" would have lasted for the twelve days of Christmas and ended with the big party on Twelfth Night. Wassail is the alcoholic punch associated, since the 1400's with Twelfth Night festivities. The term Yuletide refers to the same period of time as Christmastide--twelve days--and you kept your Yule log burning on the hearth until it was ceremonially extinguished on Twelfth Night. George and Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night, and they hosted a large party on that date each year; Martha's recipe for Twelfth Night cake called for 40 eggs, 4 pounds of sugar and 5 pounds of dried fruits! Mummers, Morris Dancers, Sword Dancers and Molly Dancers performed on the streets throughout Yuletide and on Twelfth Night particularly.


Whenever you date Twelfth Night, the season of Epiphany, in Western traditions, begins today. (The Orthodox, or Eastern, tradition uses a different calendar). Epiphany, based on the Greek for "appearance; miraculous phenomenon," is a season that celebrates the Incarnation, God's revelation of himself to mankind in the human form of His Son, Jesus. Readings for this season always include the accounts of the visit of the Magi, Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist, and his first miracle at the wedding of Cana. Other events of his early ministry are included in this season and vary by year; on the last Sunday in Epiphany, we always read the account of the Transfiguration.

For, as ever-increasing light was a theme for liturgical season of Christmas, the theme of light, fully-revealed, characterizes Epiphany. The Old Testament reading for today, the first day of Epiphany begins, "Arise, shine; for your light has come." (Isaiah 60:1) This theme is reflected in other OT readings as well; for example, the transfiguration of Moses and the visit by a messenger of light--an angel--to Gideon. In the Gospel events celebrated during Epiphany (especially the visit of the Magi and Christ's baptism, first miracle and Transfiguration), Christ is revealed and proclaimed to be the Light and Savior of the world.

A parallel theme of Epiphany, then, is the mission of the church to proclaim to the world that it has a Savior in Jesus Christ. New Testament readings are taken from Paul's letters, which focus on equipping the church for this mission, and the collects, or prayers, for the season, beautifully tie the liturgical themes to the tasks of the Church and of each believer.

are the readings for today--the first day of Epiphany. Today's collect is less missional than subsequent collects will be--but it is the right starting place for the season:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Anonymous said...

This was so very interesting. Thanks for the information about a little known celebration.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information and insight on Epiphany and the 12 Days of Christmas. This day is significant to me for a couple more reasons. First, it is my Step-Dad's birthday. It was always fun when we were kids to know that we were giving him gifts at the same time that the "Wise Men" gave their gifts to Jesus. I think it made things a little more real for us.

The second thing that is unique about January 6 for me is that it is the anniversary of the death of my first husband. He died 7 years ago. This is a day of mixed emotion; heartache, joy, reflection, thankfulness, etc. God has done amazing things in my life over the last seven years. I was not left to pine away as a lonely widow with fatherless children. He provided my perfect partner, a wonderful father for my children, and even more children to bless our lives. God is so gracious to give us joys that surpass our biggest sorrows, fears and hopes, but he also grows us through the painful times of loss. Now I really know what Paul meant when he told us to be grateful for our trials. I am! I wouldn't be the person I am without these experiences. I wouldn't wish them on anyone else, but am so happy God knew that he had developed a faith in me that would cause me to cling to Him throughout the darkest times. He has since used my husband (also widowed) and I in some pretty cool ways. Gods plan and timing are so perfect; even when we don't understand. Kind of like there being no room at the Inn, leading Mary to give birth to Jesus in a stable. So humbling, but so perfect when it comes to being accessible to everyone. Thank you, Lord!!

At A Hen's Pace said...

Wow, 5KidMom--

That's an amazing story of God meeting you in suffering. Praise Him!

Thanks for sharing!


Anonymous said...

Hi and thanks for stopping by my Epiphany posts. Your post here is much more detailed than mine. Very interesting.