I think some of us Western “low church” Christians (speaking for myself, at least) have always wondered what the “twelve days” of Christmas were all about. I admit that I used to think it must be referring to the twelve days leading up to Christmas. Well, lo, and behold, it is actually the twelve days starting with Christmas! Who wudda thunk that it was the twelve days after Christmas? Well, what are we counting up to if Christmas is only the first day?!  The twelfth day of Christmas is a very important day for many of the more traditional Orthodox Christian faiths — it is the day that marks the Feast of Epiphany, or “Appearance.”

Epiphany, which is traditionally celebrated on January 6 (or the Sunday closest to it), commemorates, with some variations, the visitation of the Magi to the baby Jesus and his recognition as King, which constitutes his appearance/manifestation to the Gentiles.  Furthermore, Eastern Christians celebrate on this day the baptism of Jesus, which was his manifestation (Theophany) as the Son of God.

Some early Christians celebrated three important events on January 6th — Christ’s birth, his baptism, and the marriage at Cana (four events, if you include the visit of the Wise Men).  I find it very interesting that these events were all celebrated conjointly on the one holy day — baptism, birth, acclamation as king, and marriage.  (On this topic, see also my notes from Dr Laurence Hemming’s presentation at SBL here (you have to scroll down), where he connects the 40 days between Christmas and Candlemas (Feb. 2) with the 40-day post-Resurrection ministry of Christ).

While Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season for many people (many take down their Christmas decorations today), it should also mark a beginning. It celebrates the appearance, the Theophany, the “shining forth” of the Son of God in the world — the manifestation of God’s love for his children here on Earth. Although many of us, who are, alas, not so connected to ancient tradition, generally let this day go by without any special notice, the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ is certainly a concept worth celebrating!

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