Have you ever heard someone say they “had an epiphany” while brushing their teeth? Well, Wikipedia lists the secular meaning of an epiphany as “the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something… (when someone) has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper foundational frame of reference”. My Mom calls them “a-ha moments”.
Well, Epiphany is also a holiday, one that occurs on January 6, and celebrates traditionally the baptism of Jesus Christ and/or the coming of the Magi. There are different interpretations of the dates of all the pieces of Christ’s history, but the common thread is that this day celebrated recognizing Christ as the Son of God. It was as big as Christmas, at one time. This is where the Twelve Days of Christmas comes from – January 6 is the “Twelfth Night”. In some Christian cultures, such as South America, this season was extended for 40 days, to Candlemas (February 2 – tune in to a later column to see the nifty history on that).
Of course, since this was a celebration, there was a feast and activities. Epiphany marked the end of the Christmas celebrations – the yule log would burn on the fire until this night, when the ashes would then be kept til next Christmas to rekindle the good spirit of the season. The Christmas tree and wreath were kept up until Epiphany and any dried or candied fruit that might decorate either one would be eaten as part of the feast (remember, fruit was hard to come by in winter, and so was a treasured gift and would not be wasted.) People would go singing door to door, and they or sometimes the priests would bless the house after a sip of wassail punch, and mark it with the year’s date in chalk. Shakespeare even wrote a play for this time, in which many elements are reversed, as was common during this bit of celebrating (this tradition seems to go back to pagan rituals, which celebrated Epiphany as the end of the season that started at All Hallow’s Eve, when the world turned upside down.) And in many cultures there would be a “king cake”, baked with a bean or pea in the filling. The person receiving the bean in their piece would be crowned king or queen for the evening.
I was not aware of any of the ceremony that was Epiphany until I spent time in France, and I must admit I was charmed and awed by this wonderful way of closing out the Christmas season. Whether you are religious or not, it helps to have the focus on moving forward and hoping for a better tomorrow, don’t you think? I felt it helped me understand more about the big picture.
We will be celebrating Twelfth Night at Rabbit Hollow with my traditional French recipe for the Galette des Rois or Twelfth Night Torte, which is in the Recipe Archives. I will enjoy a last look at the Christmas tree before it comes down, and reflect on the good things to come in 2012. I wish you and yours a happy start to this new year.