Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Epiphany is the Real Magic of Christmas

It’s still Christmas!

We put up our tree on Dec. 23. Several days before, the husband and daughter rode the tractor “out back” on our 12 acres and found a cedar tree. The size was fine and it generally had the conical shape, but it had long branches on one side and a huge bare spot on the other. I had little hope for it.

But once we strung the lights and placed the ornaments and tinsel on it, it took on a new identity, as though some magic transformed it into an object of beauty.

It graces the dining room. With its gentle light and that of a candle or two on the table, Christmas music softly playing, the room is a peaceful place to linger over a meal or cup of tea.

And so Christmas for us begins on Christmas Eve and lasts until Twelfth Night or Epiphany, a holiday that lasts nearly two weeks. It’s party and gathering time.

Many countries around the world still observe Christmas through Twelfth Night. America’s consumer culture, which prefers to observe Christmas as a secular spending spree, has gypped its citizens of experiencing the depth and width and height that Christmastide has to offer.

Rage against the machine. You are not a consumer.

The last day of Christmas is Epiphany, Jan. 6, the day to commemorate the arrival of the wise men. Epiphany is the revealing of Jesus as the son of God. Epiphany also celebrates the revealing of Jesus at his baptism and at his first miracle at the wedding of Cana. It honors the mystery of incarnation.

Epiphany is not defined as a good idea or an inspiration. The word in Greek means manifestation or appearance. It’s used to describe God coming to Earth as Jesus Christ.

I love this period of time, a time out of time. The kids are off from school, I am off from work, and my daughter is visiting from Belfast. Friends and family come and go. Aside from a few daily chores, it’s like a long Sabbath. I can stay up as late as I want, take naps, read, visit, bake, take long walks, rest, celebrate.

The Christmas tree lights and candles are like the light in the darkness of cold, barren winter. Like the light of Christ in an often difficult world.

Some churches celebrate Epiphany with “mystery dinners,” where a few members host a meal in their homes. Their guests don’t know whose home they’re dining at until a few hours before the meal, and the hosts don’t know who their guests are until they appear. Thus the revealing. Other churches hold a “burning of the greens,” where members and neighbors bring their (real) Christmas trees and wreathes for a great bonfire.

The burning of the greens, in addition to creating a great light, also fills the role of ridding the house of Christmas decorations. In some places it’s considered unlucky to have greens in the house after Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night is the sort of “secular” version of Epiphany. Shakespeare’s play—a great confusion and revealing of identities—was written to be performed on that night. In some places, a special cake is made containing a dried bean and pea and whoever gets them are the king and queen of the night’s activities.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m a bit romantic. Maybe I don’t belong in USA in 2010. I seem to march to the beat of a different drummer. I just think we’re missing a lot with our obsession with shopping, our attempt to be satisfied with the accumulation of stuff, our disconnect from the natural world all around us.

Honestly? I think we’ve been sold a pack of lies. I think Consumerism is a religion concocted by Wall Street to make a small part of our population rich. It’s a distraction from who we really are, why we’re really here, what life is really all about. And so I continue to remind myself and you that there are other, deeper, more satisfying ways to live our lives.

Like our cedar tree, I still believe the magic of Christmas can transform something small and ugly into a thing of beauty and grace.

And so with that I wish you a merry Christmas and happy new year.

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