Sunday, December 29, 2013

Epiphany: A bright thought & the real end of Christmas

This is an article I wrote for an online service (now defunct) circa 2006.

Epiphany: A bright thought and the real end of Christmas

Every year as Christmas approaches, it’s anticipated by many with excitement, yet fills some with anxiety. Potential stressors can include being thrown together with relatives that grate, dealing with the drudge of shopping, or just enduring non-stop Christmas music.

But whether you love or loathe Christmas, nearly everyone wants to know when it’s over.

Oh, you thought December 26th was it? Nope. The official last day of Christmas is traditionally January 6th, which is called Epiphany.

However, the word and the day, Epiphany, hold a variety of nuanced meanings. Here are a few abbreviated tidbits that may just be enlightening on the topic.

Eureka XXL

One of the meanings of the word of epiphany is "a shining forth."  The word initially referred to divine manifestations. However, over time, it also came to mean "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something."

Frank Maier, a journalist, wrote that he, "experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself." Usually the term as used in this sense is tied most closely to Irish novelist James Joyce.

Joyce is credited with first using the term in his novel, Stephen Hero, which was a precursor to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He also used the term in Ulysses where Stephen Dedalus muses, "Remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria?"

For Joyce and others who use the word in this sense, it points to those often unanticipated and startling moments when something suddenly crashes into our consciousness with intense clarity. These moments often have a sense of spirituality about them which leads us to additional meanings of the word epiphany.

On the thirteenth day of Christmas

I had a tiny epiphany one year when it dawned on me that I had managed to get through the entire Christmas season without once hearing "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...." Amazing, eh!

Epiphany, January 6th, actually marks the true end of Christmas. The 12th day of Christmas is the day before Epiphany.

Some people leave their Christmas tree up until Epiphany, when, traditionally, it is supposed to be taken down and burned, or at least recycled.

All those other gifts accumulated from your "true love?" They can now be returned, put to work, shooed away, auctioned on eBay, or eaten.

Wee Three Kings a caroling

Epiphany is also known as Three Kings Day (or Festival of the Three Kings, or Adoration of the Magi), especially among Hispanic faithful. It is viewed as the traditional day when the three Wisemen visited the baby Jesus and also celebrates the Christmas star that guided them.

For some, Three Kings Day is as big or bigger than Christmas and involves even more gift-giving and great holiday food.

In Bavaria, there is said to be a custom called "Star Singers," where, from New Year's through January 6th, children dress as the three kings, go door to door caroling while holding up a large star. They are greeted at each home with money or treats, the money usually being given to charities.

Emmanuel means God with us

According to The Christian Sourcebook (Ballantine, 1986), "Epiphany began in the Eastern Orthodox Church -- perhaps as early as the third century -- and originally was a celebration of Christ's birth. In the fourth century, however, December 25 was declared Christmas, and Epiphany took on its current significance. Although Epiphany falls on January 6th, it is often observed on the first Sunday after the New Year."

The word epiphany derives from the Greek word for "appearance" or "manifestation," as means as well "a shining forth."

So, when it comes to the word epiphany, the day marks the end of Christmas, while the exclamation marks the dawning of a bright thought or realization.

What are some of the lesser known Christmas or Epiphany traditions you are aware of? When do you take down your tree?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Winter Assault (#PoetryMonday*)

The uncleaned vehicles ahead
Throw off soft white grenades
That   pom! *   pom! *
In frosty silent explosions
Pummeling our windshield.

 It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo, click here and then scroll down. 
A short, new poem for the season, offered on this Christmas Day 2013, even though it's not Monday. 

This poem is included in this collection:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Heaven

 I wrote this devotional a few years ago. It's included in Words for Winter.

When I was a boy, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas was go to my grandmother's house. It was a tiny, barely put together farm house next to a train track just at the edge of town. In the house later as an adult, I had a hard time imagining how we all fit at Christmas. It really was tiny. But we all did fit! Aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, the new spouses, and a few strays. The place was packed front to back.

The men mostly sat in the living room with Papaw. He would “chaw” his “tobacky” and they would chaw with each other and glance at the game or Christmas program on the little black and white TV in the corner, warmed by the giant coal furnace that took up half the room! Mamaw and the women held their annual Christmas confab in the kitchen, warmed by the never-off oven and stove.

What a treasure room the kitchen was! We'd never see as much or as wide a variety of food the whole rest of the year. The smells of freshly baked pies and bread, and turkey and ham roasting in the oven were heavenly! Everyone brought something, but Mamaw by far prepared the bulk of it. Everything tasted as delicious as it smelled.

While waiting for the latecomers to arrive and the turkey to get just right brown, we, the kids, played. Indoors and outdoors, no matter the weather. We chased through the tiny house, hootin' and a hollerin' and a carryin' on. At least that's how Mamaw would describe it when she'd tell us, with a mischievous grin, to “hesh up and settle down a bit.”

Of course, we didn't get too rowdy. We didn’t want to make Mamaw really upset for fear we'd miss the special gift. Every year, she always gave us kids the special gift. It was one thing we looked forward to as much as anything else at Christmas.

Until there were too many of us for her budget, Mamaw always gave every grandkid a silver dollar! You'd have thought she'd handed us bars of pure gold the way we held those coins. Once in our hands, you’d practically have to pry them loose with a crowbar. They were magical, special, and ours.

It wouldn’t have made any difference how loud we might have whooped it up, she would have still given us the silver dollars. She loved us unconditionally. In a very real sense, we belonged to her and she would not have forsaken any of us.

Every year as we move steadily closer to the 25th of December, there is a question we hear over and over: “What would you like to get this year?” In fact, in many families, written lists of Christmas wishes are mandatory. Once produced, they are put on the refrigerator door so all can refer to them.

All of us wants something at Christmas, even if we say otherwise. There's something soul affirming in receiving a gift given in love, even if it's not deserved or wasn't expected.

There's no greater gift we can receive than the gift of Jesus Christ and his salvation: “… the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).

What's more, once you accept this gift, it's yours forever. The Lord said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). You are His child.

My silver dollars? Sadly, they're gone. Lost after several house moves. But what has never been lost is the love I felt when I received those coins. My grandmother's love was genuine and true. She lives in heaven, but her love lives in my heart even today. Her love is a forever gift worth more than all the silver and gold in the world.

So is the love and mercy of Christ. As long as you walk with Him and grow in grace, you will one day spend Christmas in heaven with my grandmother. And she might just give you a silver dollar!

“‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:11-14).

What are some of the Christmas memories you treasure? Share them in the comments! Read more like this in Words For Winter: A small collections of writings for the season, available for Kindle or in Paperback.