Today is January 6th also known as Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the end of the 12 Days of Christmas and part of celebrations in many countries. We often forget the non-hallmark holidays since many people went back to work as usual here on Monday. But once again I was reminded when I texted a friend and they told me that they would be busy for the “remainder of the nativity feast”.
So here is a little about the meaning of and the traditions around Epiphany. I was first introduced to this when I lived in Germany, where the tree was decorated on Christmas Eve (with real candles!) and it was left up until after Three Kings Day. I didn’t really understand the significance but once I looked more closely at the church calendar it started to click.
Epiphany is the celebration and recognition of Jesus as the son of God. It fits with Three Kings Day because this day was a celebration of the visit of the magi. They came, worshipped him, acknowledged him as the son of God and gave him gifts fitting for his life and death (Matthew 2:1-12). In some places, like Germany, boys and girls dressed as the wisemen go from house to house singing and collecting money for charity. Once again I don’t remember all the details but Three Kings Day is definitely still celebrated in the Catholic church in many parts of Germany. It would be fun to know about more traditions and church celebrations from other places.
I remember being told that the 12 Days of Christmas song, that is popular here in the US, also has spiritual significance but after doing a little digging I’m no longer sure that the spiritual meaning wasn’t just added recently. I love finding Christ and the gospel signified in cultural or other contexts but I’m not a fan of attributing spiritual meaning where there really isn’t any. I’ll keep researching but for now my position is that the 12 Days of Christmas is just a secular song that’s exhausting and fun to sing, gold rings, pear tree and all.
But I did find a different song of English origin, A New Dial, that dates much later (around 1625). There is no doubt of the spiritual significance in this song as they count down the 12 days of Christmas. And so I will leave you with these lyrics which can be found many places but I got these ones here. Happy Epiphany everyone! What a sweet day to remember that Jesus is God’s son.
A New Dial
What are they that are but one?
We have one God alone
In heaven above sits on His throne.
What are they which are but two?
Two testaments, the old and new,
We do acknowledge to be true.
What are they which are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity
Which make one God in unity.
What are they which are but four
Four sweet Evangelists there are,
Christ’s birth, life, death which do declare.
What are they which are but five?
Five senses, like five kings, maintain
In every man a several reign.
What are they which are but six?
Six days to labor is not wrong,
For God himself did work so long.
What are they which are but seven?
Seven liberal arts hath God sent down
With divine skill man’s soul to crown.
What are they which are but eight?
Eight Beatitudes are there given
Use them right and go to heaven.
What are they which are but nine?
Nine Muses, like the heaven’s nine spheres,
With sacred tunes entice our ears.
What are they which are but ten?
Ten statutes God to Moses gave
Which, kept or broke, do spill or save.
What are they which are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus’ sake.
What are they which are but twelve?
Twelve are attending on God’s son;
Twelve make our creed. The Dial’s done.