You might be in a hurry to take down your Christmas decorations, but the holiday celebration isn’t technically over quite yet.
Rather than just a traditional Christmas song, think of the “12 Days of Christmas” as a way to calculate the date of Epiphany, or the Twelfth Night, a holy day on the Christian calendar.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “epiphany” as “an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being.” So when Christians refer to Epiphany, traditionally celebrated on the Sunday closest to Jan. 6, we are referring to the day the magi — or the “Three Wise Men” — visited Mary, Joseph, and the newborn baby Jesus. It’s worth noting, of course, the biblical account of the Christmas story doesn’t specify the number of “wise men” nor the date they arrived in Bethlehem to offer gifts to Jesus.
Epiphany is a day to commemorate God’s outward, tangible expression of love toward us. The journey of the magi, who were led to Bethlehem by a miraculous star, revealed Jesus came to draw all people to Himself.
“[The magi] were some of the first non-Jewish people to actually come before the little Lord Jesus and give Him their worship and praise,” said Mark Jeske, pastor of St. Marcus Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “The Epiphany sometimes is called ‘Christmas for Gentiles,’ because it celebrates the day when people from far away came to worship.”
“That’s the great meaning of Epiphany,” he continued, “that the light of the holiness and glory of Jesus Christ is shining through His earthly disguise and it reaches to the far corners of the world, because the forgiveness He bought is for everybody.”
While some Christian cultures mark Epiphany with major celebrations, most Protestant believers celebrate the date as the official end of the Christmas season. The date also marks the beginning of Epiphanytide, or the Sundays After Epiphany, a liturgical period that lasts from Jan. 6 until the day before Ash Wednesday in February, which marks the first day of Lent.
Regardless of how we each commemorate Epiphany, Christians around the world should relish in this holiday season: an opportunity to celebrate God sending His Son to earth to save us from ourselves.
So Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a blessed Epiphany.