Letter From Granma

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Epiphany

As you grandgirls assisted in taking down the Christmas decorations and packing them away for another year, I realized that your celebration of the holiday and your traditions are different than mine.

I had an epiphany (striking realization) on Epiphany.

The first thing I realized was that you were unaware that the 12 days of Christmas do not precede Christmas.

12

12 Days of Christmas….

The Twelve Days of Christmas are observed from December 25 until January 5.  The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day. This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January.

I have always left my Christmas decor in place until after the 6th of January.  I was brought up in the tradition that Twelfth Night, January 5th, celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, the physical manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God to the Gentiles. (Matthew 2: 1-12) and the celebration of Epiphany follows on January 6.   When I announced on Tuesday that it was the 12th day of Christmas called Epiphany, I was met with blank stares.

epiphany_4420c

Over the years as I have become associated with more and more people of different ethnic backgrounds, I have learned that many Eastern Orthodox religions actually celebrate the birth of Christ on January 6th….it is their Christmas.  As a business owner I routinely needed to give employee time off for holiday celebrations not only on December 25 and January 1, but also January 6.  For others, Epiphany is the celebration of the baptism of Christ…again the physical manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God.  Regardless…Epiphany is an  important day on the Christian calender.

Your time in New Orleans exposed you to customs in yet another way, but I am guessing that you never knew it had anything to do with Epiphany.   While you were there you became aware of the “King Cake” a long standing tradition in Louisiana.  But did you know that the Mardi Gras season begins on Epiphany and it is the first day that the king cake is baked and sold?  The “king cake” takes its name from the biblical three kings.  The cake often has a small plastic baby (said to represent Baby Jesus) inside (or sometimes placed underneath), and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations and must provide the next  King Cake.  The baby symbolizes luck and prosperity to whomever finds it in their slice of cake

Kingcake

Now that we are in Virginia and after additional research, I have found that in colonial Virginia twelfth night or Epiphany was celebrated with great merriment.  The “Great Cake” was prepared which consisted of 2 giant layers of fruit cake coated and filled with royal icing.   Custom dictated that the youngest child present, cut, and serve the cake and whoever found the bean or the prize was crowned King of the Bean.  Isn’t it interesting how similar the traditions of Louisiana and Virginia are?

The other thing that is of interest to me is how often we are involved in celebrations and traditions, but we have no idea what they represent or how they began.  So much of what we do and how we celebrate is based on customs and traditions handed down over many years.  The more we delve into the way the traditions began, the more we know about their significance and their influence on our lives.

 

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we travel afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrow, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star!

 

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