The Twelve Days of Christmas culminate on January 6 – Epiphany. Derived from the Greek word epipmaneia which means “manifestation” or “appearance,” Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men or Magi, having been guided by a star, at the home of the Child and their presentation of gifts to him.
The second chapter in the Gospel of Matthew provides the only accounts of:
- the visit of the Magi, their presentation of gifts to the Christ child, their departure by another route (vs. 1-12)
- the message of the angel to Joseph telling him to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt as King Herod intended to kill the child (vs. 13-15)
- the massacre of the infants (vs. 16-18)
- the return of the Holy Family to Nazareth (vs. 19-23)
Reading the Matthean account carefully, we don’t know how many Magi there were or where exactly their journey started…only that “wise men came from the east.” We do know that they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While we have adopted the names of Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior, the author of the Gospel of Matthew does not name the Magi.
The arrival of the Magi is often conflated with the Nativity story; however, Jesus was probably between 1 1/2 and 2 years old when the Magi arrived with their gifts. (According to verse 2 in Matthew’s account, the Magi arrived after Jesus was born.) Epiphany is often referred to as “Universal Christmas” as it recalls the disclosure of Christ for all people. In Syria and Lebanon, Epiphany Eve is known as the Night of Destiny, when trees bowed down in remembrance of the night they bent down to show the Magi the path away from the violence of Herod.
The liturgical color for Epiphany is white. The liturgical color for the four – six Sundays (depending upon the liturgical calendar) after Epiphany is green. Much happens during the season after Epiphany: Jesus is baptized, tempted in the wilderness, begins his ministry, calls his first disciples, teaches, heals, and is transfigured.
FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES:
- They Followed a Bright Star based on a poem by Joan Alavedra, and illustrated by Ulises Wendell. A story of shepherds and kings and also of others who may have seen the star.
- The Christmas Star by Marcus Pfister. Shepherds, kings, and all the animals of the forest follow the guiding star to where the Holy Child lies.
- The Legend of Old Befana by Tomi dePaulo. The story of an elderly woman who, legend says, was visited by the Magi on their way to find the Christ Child. She declined their invitation to accompany them so to finish her chores. She later decided to go and she got lost. To this day, her story is enacted in Italian communities.
- LaBefana: An Italian Night after Christmas by Sunday Frey-Blanchard and Roger Frey. A poetic adaptation of the tradition of LaBefana.
- https://www.buildfaith.org/the-journey-of-the-magi/ T.S.Elliot’s poem The Journey of the Magi, preceded by suggestions prior to reading the poem.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVIOrDx49a0 John Schoenheit of the Spirit and Truth Fellowship International explores what the Bible says about the Magi (Wise Men) following a Christmas Star to Bethlehem. (10:25 minutes)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7fggVO37eE A December 2010 ABC Nightline documentary about the mystery of the Magi. (9:01 minutes)
- Epiphany is a time when we can recall the stories in scriptures where Jesus was revealed to us: his baptism, his temptation in the wilderness, his presentation in the temple, the Transfiguration, his death and resurrection. Reflect on how Jesus has revealed himself to you.
- https://www.buildfaith.org/guiding-stars-an-epiphany-activity-at-home/ a good activity for individuals and families inviting the choosing of a theme you would like to be guided by in the coming year.
- Take a faith walk. Look for the brightest star in the sky. When you find one, retell or remember the story of the Magi, presenting their gifts to the Christ child.
- Bake and decorate star cookies.
- Make a three king’s cake to celebrate this day. Multiple recipes can be found on the internet.
- Consider placing the Magi from your nativity set another room in your home, moving them closer to the nativity scene each day, until their “arrival” on January 6.