Archive for Christmas

The 12 Days of Christmas (Catholic Style!)

12 days of christmasHappy Christmastide! Did you know the “Christmas season” for Catholics is not the weeks prior to Christmas (as advertisements would have us believe) ending on Christmas Day? Nope, we’re just getting started with the celebration!

Christmas Season in the Church begins on Christmas Day and lasts for 40 days, ending on February 2 (“Candlemas”). “Christmastide” is the 12 days following Christmas, including the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on the Octave of January 1 and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (traditionally anyway; in some countries Epiphany is observed on the Sunday nearest to January 6). Over on our sister site, Intentional Catholic Parenting, I’ve posted some great links to help your family celebrate the Solemnity of Mary and Epiphany, so check it out.

And for those of you who love trivia, here’s a fun little key to the 18th century song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with suggestions for how the song teaches Catholic doctrine (from Ann Ball’s Catholic Sacramentals).

Partridge in a pear tree        Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings.

Two turtle doves                    Old & New Testaments

Three French Hens               Faith, hope, charity

Four Calling birds                 The Four Gospels

Five Golden Rings                 The Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy)

Six geese a laying                   Six days of creation

Seven Swans a swimming     7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Eight maids a-milking           8 Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing             Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Ten Lords a-leaping              10 Commandments

Eleven pipers piping             The 11 faithful disciples

12 drummers drumming      12 articles of the Apostles Creed

Happy Epiphany (or Little Christmas)

IMG_1073Happy “Little Christmas”!

Today (or tomorrow) depending where you are, we observe the Feast of the Epiphany, or Little Christmas.  Epiphany signifies the night on which The Three Kings were led by a star to Bethlehem to the crib side of the Christ Child, where they presented gifts to him of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s called the “Epiphany” because it marks the night when Christ’s birth was revealed to the Gentiles, while December 25th marks its revelation to Israel. Many European families exchange gifts on Epiphany, not Christmas Day.

I wonder what the Three Kings thought when they finally arrived at their destination to meet the child born King of the Jews?  In my daily devotional this  morning, the reflection pointed out that they might have walked right by the Savior, huddled away with his simple, poor parents in a stable.  No glitz, show, or glamour:  just the paradox of love wrapped in swaddling, of the power of God revealed through vulnerability.

Where are we looking for Jesus?  I am so grateful that we don’t need to journey far to find him, that we don’t need riches or jewels to honor his dignity and majesty. We need only look around us.  He’s not far.  Listen.  I hear my children laughing as I type, negotiating who will fit best into a leftover box they’ve converted into a fort.  Mirth.  Goofiness even.  Jesus is there.  He is truly reflected in our children, when they are laughing and playing, when they are in need of warmth or comfort.  He is most honored by our tender, generous love.  Our words of kindness and our cuddles are really rubies and pearls to him.  Raising these children who are open to life, to laughter, who are capable of mercy and compassion — Jesus rejoices at this sacred offering more than we can comprehend.

Today my family will observe Epiphany with our annual Epiphany Tea.  I’m so looking forward to the pretty, simple joy of this ritual!   If you’re looking for some fun, practical ways to observe Epiphany in your home, here are some links:

Living Epiphany by Kim Cameron-Smith.  I share how we observe Epiphany in our home, with family reading suggestions.

Catholic Culture.  How to do a home blessing on Epiphany, ideas for an Epiphany drama.

Cottage Blessings.  Ideas for an Epiphany tea party.

Living Epiphany

epiphany4Catholics are lucky ducks: Christmas doesn’t last only a day for us, it lasts 40 whole days, until Candlemas on February 2!  Before then, though, we observe the Feast of the Epiphany.

Epiphany signifies the night on which The Three Kings were led by a star to Bethlehem to the crib side of the Christ Child, where they presented gifts to him of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s called the “Epiphany” because it marks the night when Christ’s birth was revealed to the Gentiles, while December 25th marks its revelation to Israel. Many European families exchange gifts on Epiphany, not Christmas Day.  Traditionally, Epiphany is the 12th night after the birth of the Messiah: January 6th. That’s where the whole “12 Days of Christmas, partridge in a pear tree” thing comes from.

I’m kinda bummed that in the States we’ve moved The Feast of the Epiphany to the Sunday in between January 2 and January 8, so it’s not always exactly 12 days after Christmas, but this year Epiphany happens to fall on the 12th day, or January 6th.

Epiphany has really become overshadowed by Christmas Day, but it’s worth pondering its significance for our families. Both Christmas and Epiphany fall during the dark time, when the earth seems to sleep and creatures are huddled away from the cold. Both Feasts bring light to the darkness: Christ’s light glimmered on Christmas Day, as his divinity was revealed to the Chosen People of Israel. His light continues to shine in our homes on Christmas Day, as we exchange gifts and gather with family and friends.  On Epiphany, we are reminded that the light of God’s love illuminates a path for the entire world, Jews and Gentiles alike.  That light is no faint flicker: it’s hot and blazing like a mountain of sunbeams.  All are invited to look upon it; all can see the light if they open their eyes and hearts to the simple truth before them. Jesus may seem a world away to some people because his love seems too distant to them. They cannot comprehend that God loves them so completely, that he wants to be their intimate friend, that he invites them into his own family. The love seen in our families may be the only witness for some people of that adoring love God has for them. As our children feel loved and cherished, hopefully they will emerge into the world shining that light for whomever they encounter.

What can we do to bring Epiphany into our homes? Especially for smaller children, I think visible, tangible gestures are very effective in helping them feel connected to the day. Here are a few ideas.

Our Epiphany Tea

I’ve tried to emphasize and communicate the message of Epiphany increasingly more in our home the last few years.  We now leave up our Christmas tree and décor until Epiphany, then together we take them down and pack them away. But we leave our Nativity Set for last, because The Magi join us for a simple family Epiphany Tea, along with Baby Jesus snuggled in his manger.

Our Wise Men with Baby Jesus

Our Wise Men with Baby Jesus

I love to include candles and twinkly lights as part of Epiphany, because it becomes an effective way to explain the light of Christ to the children and how his light lives in all of us as love for others. Our string lights on our dining room sideboard will remain up until after our celebration and I bring out some easy to make hand-rolled beeswax candles my children made for Candlemas last year:



I’ll do a post on making these candles before Candlemas, but if you’re eager to make them for Epiphany, Magic Cabin sells kits with instructions.  They’re super easy — much easier and safer to make than dipped candles and small children can even join in.  We’ve been enjoying the children’s homemade candles all year.

There’s a special French cake associated with Epiphany: The King’s Cake or Galette de Rois. it’s made from almond paste and looks scrumptious.  Here’s a recipe.  The traditional cake is intriguing, and perhaps I’ll give it a try some day, but we  just bake an ordinary ol’ cake. Last year it was a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I let the kids decide what kind of cake we make.  We decorate the cake with gumdrops to represent the jewels in a king’s crown.

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Whatever cake you make, the special touch is to bake a bean into the cake (wrapped in foil). The person who finds the bean is king (or queen) for the day and gets some special privileges! If you do “Christmas crackers” – little tubes that pop open when two people pull on loose foil on each end of the tube – you’ll notice there are usually paper crowns in them. We save one of these crowns to use on Epiphany for our King or Queen. This year I’m hoping to find some pretty Christmas crackers for the children to pop on Epiphany as part of our celebration. Last year, our little Lydia found the bean in our cake and she was our queen:

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Last year we made “Lambs Wool” for our Epiphany tea: it’s a warm cider with frothed apples. You bake the apples first with the skin on, then poor your hot cider over the apples.

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We had a blast making Lamb’s Wool, but the taste was just like ordinary cider with apple bits in it. Perhaps we’ll reevaluate our beverage offerings this year. Any kind of spiced tea, perhaps cinnamon, would be perfect for the day.

Family Story Hour

Reading the account of The Magi in the Gospels is a nice way to begin or end your Epiphany celebration. We have a few favorite storybook selections that we enjoy together on Epiphany:

The Last Straw (Thury): The journey of the 3 wise men told from the perspective a camel who is supposed to guide them to their destination. Beautiful illustrations.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings (DePaola): My children love the illustrations in all of DePaola’s books, and this one is no exception.

My way of celebrating Epiphany may be more elaborate than appeals to you or is practical for your family. More important than these outward gestures is the spirit of love that Christ gave to the world through his gift of himself.  Just that one little message sums up the day. If we can all remember to love our children, our spouses, other Christians, and especially non-Christians in a way that reflects that light within us, we will live Epiphany.

God bless you all and your families!