I must live in a rarefied world.
I was so surprised when a neighbour asked me after Christmas: “Aren’t you going to take down your Nativity decorations now that Christmas is over?”
“You mean, before the Epiphany?” I asked in a state of near-shock. “What would even be the point of putting up the Nativity, if you did not celebrate the Epiphany?”
I understand that much of the world celebrates Christmas on December 25th. As Will Ferrell states clearly in “Talladega Nights,” “Dear 8 pound, six ounce newborn infant Jesus, with your tiny clenched fists…”
His character, Rikki Bobby, refused to accept the fact that Jesus Christ ever grew up or lived as an adult. He just loved the idea of Jesus as a new born baby, which we celebrate on Christmas morning.
As a child growing up in the Mid-west, however, my big sister Mary taught me the meaning of the Epiphany: Christ might have arrived on Christmas night. Unfortunately, human beings, dull as we are, did not grasp what His arrival meant until several days later. We are slow like that: God and Truth come to Earth one day. We figure out what it means weeks later. That’s just us. It doesn’t make us bad or stupid; it just makes us human. For some people, it takes days or weeks. For others, it takes years or decades; maybe a whole lifetime. The gap between the arrival and the realization is what makes humans, human.
Growing up in a family of 10 kids, doing dishes after dinner was a serious deal, and a real job. However, working with my big sister Mary, it never felt like work. I recall perfectly clearly the night she taught me the words to “We Three Kings” while she washed and I dried the dishes, pots and pans for dinner for 12 people.
“We Three Kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar…
Moor and Mountain
Field and Fountain
Following yonder star”
When we finished the dishes, I had to go find a dictionary to look up the word “moor,” which I had never heard before. Mary was mind-expanding that way; she also opened my mind to the fact that all people do not understand all ideas at the same time.
She introduced me to the ritual of moving the Three Kings around the house, moving them a little closer to the Nativity every day, although they never actually arrived until January 6th, the Epiphany.
Decades later, a co-worker complained to me: “Rita, your life is a series of endless daily Epiphanies!”
“And that is bad….how?” I spluttered. I always assumed an Epiphany is a GREAT thing.
Three years ago, we lost my big sister Mary to Alzheimer’s disease. How, I wondered, could a human being so full of sweetness and love could simply be…gone? It was an Epiphany I did not welcome.
This Christmas, my son David approached me and sighed, “Ma, I’m so sorry. Winner (his 100 pound Rottweiler) came to me with….a camel.” He held out a damaged camel, belonging to one of the Three Kings. The camel’s head had been mostly chewed off, puppy-Rottweiler style.
“Ah, well,” I laughed, “That will teach me to leave the Three Kings around the house, where dogs can reach them!”
Actually, I will still leave the Three Kings all around the house. Mary would have.