Christmas really does have 12 days.
According to the traditional Christian calendar, Christmas Day marks the beginning of Christmastide and concludes with the celebration of Epiphany on Sunday. Foothill Children’s Chorus will mark the end of the Christmas season with a second performance of its repertoire on Sunday. Auditions for those interested in joining the premiere chorus also start this month in preparation for the group’s spring concert (see box).
Epiphany is one of the important days on the church’s calendar, marking the visit of the three wise men to the young Jesus, said the Rev. Richard Johnson of Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley, where the chorus will perform.
“Usually, Epiphany is interpreted as representing the coming of the light to the nations. The wise men are the first non-Israelites to acknowledge Christ,” said Johnson.
“This festival still represents for us the fact that Christ came for the whole world, not just for Christians or any select group,” Johnson added.
In Italy, Mexico and other Mediterranean and Latin American countries, Epiphany also is sometimes called Little Christmas or Three Kings Day, and is the traditional day of gift-giving, rather than Dec. 25. (By Shakespeare’s time, Twelfth Night – the eve before Epiphany – had become a moment for feasting, music and comic role-reversal, hence the name of his 1602 comedy.)
The Greek root of “epiphany” means “to show, “to make known” or “to reveal.” Christians originally observed the holiday to celebrate four moments when God revealed himself to man, according to Catholic writer and editor Scott P. Richert, based in Rockford, Ill. Those moments are: Jesus’ birth, when angels reveal him to Jewish shepherds; the visit of the three wise men, non-Jews from a county to the east; Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his ministry, when God’s voice is heard claiming Jesus as his son; and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana, where he turned water into wine.
The Western church eventually started observing the nativity in the separate holy day of Christmas, and came to use Epiphany to mark the arrival of the magi; Jesus’ baptism and first miracle also now have separate days of observance, Richert writes. (In the Eastern Orthodox churches, Epiphany remains the primary holy day for celebrating the birth of Jesus, Johnson added.)
So, in the West, “Epiphany came to mark the end of Christmastide – the Twelve Days of Christmas, which began with the revelation of Christ to Israel (at) his birth and ended with the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles at Epiphany,” Richert writes.
The season of Epiphany lasts several weeks, depending on how each Christian sect divides its liturgical calendar. It leads into the observance of Lent, in anticipation of Easter.
At Peace Lutheran Church, Epiphany will be celebrated with readings about the visit of the three magi from the Gospel of St. Matthew during worship services at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., at 828 W. Main St., Grass Valley (near downtown).
Grass Valley resident and freelance writer Trina Kleist may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (530) 575-6132.