Epiphany or Three Kings Day is January 6 and as the Twelfth Night officially ends the Christmas season. It is often celebrated on the nearest Sunday between January 2 and January 8.
It is a day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the arrival of The Magi (Three Kings or Wise Men). In the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Eve to January 6. And Epiphany Day was a major celebration well into the mid 19th century when its importance diminished. The Catholic Church no longer requires January 6 to be celebrated as a solemnity on that exact day and celebrates it on the Sunday that follows it. Some Protestant churches celebrate the Epiphany season from January 6 till Ash Wednesday. Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 19 as they follow the Julian calendar.
In many Spanish speaking countries, Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day)is celebrated with special foods and gatherings. Many European countries have their own unique observances as well. Children often gets treats or presents on this day. In Italy, La Befana flies through the night on January 5 on a broomstick to deliver gifts to good kids and give coal to the bad ones.
So who were the Three Kings? There is a lot of debate on this. Some doubt they existed and some consider it a pious fantasy. Much of what is called the Three Kings today are embellishments that have been added over time. The Gospel of Matthew, the earliest source of the story, is quite simple and only refers to them as Magi from the east. Nor does it say there were only three but three gifts were given. And it is possible they were actually Nabataeans, a trading people that lived in northern Arabia to the Southern Levant whose capital is known as Petra today. Dwight Longnecker in his book Mystery of the Magi examines this evidence. Worth reading if you want to learn more about who these Magi might really have been.
The Feast of the Holy Innocents or Innocent’s Day is to remember the slaughter of male children 2 years and younger in Bethlehem and in its vicinity by Herod the Great. The story as related in the Gospel of Matthew (2:16-18). Herod was angered when the Wise Men did not return to him after locating the Messiah. No one can say with certainty how many were killed. Some have doubted it happened at all but it would be consistent with Herod the Great’s personality. He had no problems executing even members of his family if he thought they were betraying him. And since Bethlehem was a small area, the slaughter may not have been widely noticed.
Nearly all the Christian churches observe the feast day though not on the same day. The Catholic Church and most western churches observe it on December 28 but Eastern Orthodox celebrates on December 29. The slain children are treated as martyrs of the church. It is not certain when it was first observed. While the exact date of the deaths is unknown, it is kept in the octave of Christmas as followed after the birth of Jesus. However it is believed it took place 2 years after Jesus birth. Matthew says the Wise Men saw child with his mother indicating he was no longer a baby. And Herod had learned from the Wise Men the approximate date of the birth.
The Feast of the Holy Family was instituted as liturgical celebration of the Roman Catholic Church to venerate the Holy Family–Jesus, Saint Joseph and Blessed Mary–as a model for all Christian families. The feast was first introduced in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII and set on the Sunday after the Epiphany. However in 1969 it was moved to the first Sunday after Christmas to make it part of the Christmas season.
If you remember the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas , you heard the name. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian church who was accused of blasphemy and put on trial by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. After a trial in which he denounced them, Stephen was stoned to death. One of the witnesses to the event was Saul of Tarsus, who later converted and is known today as the apostle Paul. Stephen is considered the first martyr for the faith, the reason his feast day immediately follows the celebration of Jesus birth. All the major Christian congregations–Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox–all venerate him as a Saint and celebrate the feast day (Western churches on 26 December, 27 Dec Orthodox, and 8 Jan Oriental Orthodox). In some countries (mainly Western Europe) it is a public holiday.
In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand it is celebrated as Boxing Day, a secular holiday that falls on the same day as Feast of Stephen. Traditionally it is the day in which servants and tradespeople receive the “Christmas box” from their employers. While that tradition may still hold true, it is either a second Christmas day for some or an extra shopping day (though in some countries it apparently is a day when a lot of returns to retailers takes place). It is also a major sports day as well.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and it is the last one of course before Christmas. Advent is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus and not Christmas itself. While the secular world conflates the two (Advent and Christmas), the distinction is kept within the Christian church. Advent is a time of preparation for the birth so spiritual readings and vestments will reflect it. Unlike Lent which has strict observances that include fasts, Advent has no such strict requirement.
Yet it is a time for reflection as one awaits the approach of Christmas Day. In more olden times, there were fasts (it is still practiced in Eastern and Russian Orthodox where meat and dairy is prohibited for a specific period leading up to Christmas Day) but it is no longer a requirement in most Western churches. However there is a trend emerging that encourages the faithful to perhaps give up something during Advent or perform a service that benefits others (like volunteering to help feed homeless people). Music during this period also is designed to do this as well.
Come, let us rejoice in the Lord, let us acclaim God our salvation.
Let us come before him proclaiming our thanks, let us acclaim him with songs.(Psalm 95)
Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind and eye disorders and her feast day used to coincide with the Winter Solstice which is the day often celebrated as a festival of light in many places. Many stories and legends have become associated with her but research has failed to substantiate many of them. It is known she lived in Sicily early in the fourth century and was persecuted and executed for her faith. One story that is likely true is that she was denounced as a Christian by a suitor after she turned him down because of her faith. She faced torture and death for her beliefs. Because it is believed she was blinded during Roman torture, she is the patron saint of the blind.
Her feast day is celebrated in Scandinavian countries as a festival of light during the long winter night. A young girl in a white dress and red sash carries palms and wears a wreath of candles on head. Special rolls or cookies are made for the day and often handed out to the elderly. It is also celebrated in parts of Italy particularly in Sicily and in many places of the world today. There are many churches dedicated to her and the island of Santa Lucia in the Caribbean is named for her.
What Is Advent? Advent on the Christian calendar is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. It is a season of joy leading up to Christmas Day and also a time of preparation similar to Lent. Prayer, fasting and penance are part of the Advent season. The rules are not as strict as Lent but a time of self-preparation. The color purple is associated with penance. Each Advent Sunday is meant to ready oneself for rejoicing at the birth of Jesus that is to come. The Third Sunday of Advent is the anticipatory celebration and the color rose is used to represent joy.
The Advent wreath
Many homes and churches will have an Advent wreath to symbolize the season, and to mark each Sunday as it happens. The practice began by German Lutherans in the 18th century as a means of teaching Advent to children. The practice began to spread to Catholics and other Christian denominations as well. Advent wreaths are circular to show that God’s love is infinite and is made with evergreen leaves. It used to be a family event to gather the leaves and make the wreath. The practice has resurfaced in recent years as many families now do this again. Advent wreaths made of artificial evergreens are available in a wide series of designs. Handmade ones can be made to last many years.
Advent on the Christian calendar is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. It is a season of joy leading up to Christmas Day and also a time of preparation similar to Lent. Prayer, fasting and penance are part of the Advent season. The rules are not as strict as Lent but a time of self-preparation. The color purple is associated with penance. Each Advent Sunday is meant to ready oneself for rejoicing at the birth of Jesus that is to come. The Third Sunday of Advent is the anticipatory celebration and the color rose is used to represent joy.
The Advent wreath
Many homes and churches will have an Advent wreath to symbolize the season, and to mark each Sunday as it happens. The practice began by German Lutherans in the 18th century as a means of teaching Advent to children. The practice began to spread to Catholics and other Christian denominations as well.
Advent wreaths are circular to show that God’s love is infinite and is made with evergreen leaves. It used to be a family event to gather the leaves and make the wreath. The practice has resurfaced in recent years as many families now do this again. Advent wreaths made of artificial evergreens are available in a wide series of designs. Handmade ones can be made to last many years.
All Souls Day is set aside to commemorate the faithful dead in Catholic and other Christian denominations. Most protestant denominations, with the exception of the Anglican church, do not recognize the holy day. It is not to be confused with Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which does remember friends and family who have died but is not a Catholic or Christian religious event(though it takes place from 31 Oct through 2 Nov which coincides with Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day).
One of the purposes of All Souls Day is to pray for those in purgatory. Purgatory is one of the places, according to Catholic belief, a soul may go after death (the other two places are heaven and hell). Purgatory is an intermediate place where people who are free of mortal sin but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin. While most celebrate All Souls Day on 2 November, Eastern Orthodox has several days during the year it celebrates the holy day. Though a holy day, unlike All Saints’ Day is it not a holy day of obligation (meaning you go to church).
All Saints’ Day (Solemnity of All Saints, All Hallows, Hallowmas or All Saints’)is celebrated on 1 November by most Western Christians and is to honor all saints known and unknown. In some Catholic countries, it is a holiday. It is a holy day of obligation for most Catholics except when it falls on a Saturday or Monday. In that case it is celebrated on Sunday. Eastern Orthodox is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and is called All Saints’ Sunday.
Pope Boniface IV formally started All Saints’ Day on May 13, 609 AD. He also established All Souls’ Day to follow All Saints’ Day. Pope Gregory IV made 1 November All Saints’ Day followed by All Souls’ Day. The May 13 day was formally abandoned. In Ireland, All Saints’ Day was originally celebrated on April 20 to avoid being mixed with the pagan feasts revolving around Samhain on 1 November. It was moved later to 1 November and has been there ever since. All Saints’ Day is a public holiday in Ireland where all schools, businesses and government is closed.