A Merry “Little Christmas”
Editor’s note: Communications Manager Kim Puchir explores the many sacred days that fall in this part of the Church calendar.
Sunday’s celebration of the Epiphany may seem like a footnote to a Christmas season that is already a fading memory. Not so in certain parts of the world, including a branch of the Catholic Church. In fact, there is a lot going on in the sacred calendar this time of year,
First, I spoke to someone who grew up Ukrainian Catholic to learn more about the major celebration observed by many around January 6—whether you call it Epiphany or “Little Christmas.” My source could not confirm the practice of salvaging Christmas trees discarded on the sidewalk for use in this later celebration, which I have heard rumored among thrifty Ukrainian Catholics. He did remember a big celebration with gift giving that was unique to their community.
I quickly got lost in the many different traditions observed in early January, which for some Christians is actually December. Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas later because they follow the Julian calendar—our January 7 is their December 25.
Sunday’s readings confirm that Roman Catholics celebrate on that day the arrival of the Three Magi with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A few years back, the Economist took a fascinating look at depictions of the Three Kings through the ages, coming up with a “rule of three” by taking a detour through fairy tales and ending up with the Marx Brothers.
The same time period brings the celebration of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, which is called the Theophany by Eastern churches because God appeared in three persons during the baptism. During this holy season of Epiphany/Theophany, Ukrainian Catholic priests observe the Blessing of the Waters or blessing of homes. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops lists prayers for blessing the home and household to be said on the Epiphany.
Of course, religious celebrations take place elsewhere in early January. In Spain, the Three Kings visit on January 6, bringing presents, just as they did to the Baby Jesus. In some Latin American countries, children leave their shoes by the door in order to receive a present from the magi. In Louisiana, a King Cake is baked on Epiphany in honor of the kings.
Traditionally, the Irish celebrated their own Little Christmas, Nollaig na mBan, or “Women’s Christmas,” on which women took a well-deserved rest after a hectic holiday season. Far from considering it a lost holiday, some Irish folk are trying to bring back Women’s Christmas.
All of these post-Christmas fiestas prove that a faithful life doesn’t follow the retail calendar. Stores are now running on the dregs of the stock from Christmas 2016, with next year’s big blowout already being nurtured on a balance sheet. We can rest easy knowing that there’s more than enough of the sacred to last the entire liturgical year.
Last year on the Feast of the Epiphany, Pope Francis called the Magi “a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator….” The pope urged us all to “follow the light which God offers us—that tiny light.” Keeping this spark alight is indeed a task to be renewed every day.
Reflection question: How can you keep seeing “the seeds of truth” now that Advent is over?