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Hallo again to all on this Feast of the Epiphany.

Last week we raised the idea of the church working to recapture Epiphany as the religious centre of Christmas. Save for one person grousing about how unbiblical this was, reader response was overwhelmingly positive, so we think we'll keep pushing this idea. In the intervening week, we've done a lot of reading about the history of the Feast of the Epiphany, and we discovered that its celebration is even older than the celebration of Christmas. The Eastern church, cloven from the Western church in the eleventh century, has kept a much stronger focus on Epiphany than what we find in English-speaking countries.

Much of what is written about the Feast of the Epiphany is written in some language other than English, but there is enough in English.
Byzantine art showing Christ's baptism in the River Jordan
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America has this to say about the Feast of Lights. The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East has this to say about it. The Catholic Encyclopaedia laments that 'Owing no doubt to the vagueness of the name Epiphany, very different manifestations of Christ's glory and Divinity were celebrated in this feast quite early in its history, especially the Baptism, the miracle at Cana, the Nativity, and the visit of the Magi.' And so forth: there is tremendous support, both Biblical and historical, for increasing our emphasis on Epiphany.

But even if there weren't a solid theological foundation for a deeper emphasis on Epiphany, we continue to think that it would be healthy for our church, just for marketing reasons, to do this. Before you cringe at the word 'marketing', please remember that most historians agree that the selection of December 25 was made by Emperor Julius to improve the marketing advantage of Christmas over Saturnalia. Our church has survived through the centuries because it has managed to adapt itself to new cultural norms without losing its identity.

Everyone seems to know the song about the Twelve Days of Christmas, but few know any of the traditions behind it. Shakespeare has made the term 'Twelfth Night' famous, but perhaps without actual understanding. Even ignoring the Orthodox and Latin cultural celebrations of Epiphany, which we have commented on through the years, the English cultural heritage that is part of being Anglican is rich with traditions of the twelve days and nights and their celebration. Read over the BBC's 'History of Christmas' web site, look around you at your community and its traditions, surf the web for ideas, and then start thinking what you might do in your parish next year.

We're publishing early today because we are off to evening prayer at our own parish, a quiet Festival of Light. We love going to church, and we feel privileged to be in a parish that sometimes celebrates evening prayer. Twelfth Night was, by our count, last night, but we won't tell anyone at the service.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 6 January 2002
URL: http://anglica