Webster’s Dictionary says that the word, “epiphany,” means “an appearance or manifestation of a god or other supernatural being,” or, as celebrated by the Christian Church, Epiphany is a festival on January 6th that commemorates the “revealing of Jesus as the Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi or the baptism of Jesus: also called Twelfth Day.”
I ran into the story of the Magi, or the Three Kings, a lot this past week. It began when I got my hair cut, and the girl washing my hair told me she was taking her tree down after Jan. 6th. Something rang a bell about the date, and I remembered that it was Epiphany. It wasn’t something celebrated at my church so much as simply remembered or preached on in some way. Then, I saw mention online of a Hispanic festival of the Three Kings on January 6th and realized that the girl at the salon had looked Hispanic. Could there be a big celebration among the Hispanic community in my town that I have been unaware of until now?
The kids at school looked a little blank when I asked them about it–blank, that is, until I attempted to pronounce it by its beautiful Spanish name–El Dia de los Reyes Magos–Three Kings Day. Younger kids on the playground ran to older siblings and then back to me. Yes, they thought there was something going on that day, although some had celebrated it together with Christmas Day. It wasn’t until the next day that the real excitement began. Kids had asked their parents about it and gave me a big smile and thumbs up, that yes, there had been a Three Kings Day. One little girl had not only celebrated it, but brought in a piece of “Three Kings Bread” and the little plastic baby Jesus that had been baked into it and found in her piece. They were so excited to tell me (and anyone else who would listen) about their special holiday.
One boy, who was definitely not Hispanic, heard us talking about the Three Kings Day, and he piped up that it was Ethiopian Christmas the next day, on the 7th. This is the day in the Julian calendar that Epiphany, or “Ganna,” the Birth of Jesus, is celebrated in Ethiopia. He got to have two Christmases! Since he had already told me about the clothes he had gotten for Christmas, I asked him if he was going to get to open more presents on Ethiopian Christmas, too. His face turned serious, and he said, “No. I don’t really care about the presents. It’s all about being with the family.”
I did a little research (http://www.doityourself.com/stry/ethiopian-christmas#.UtDNzMyA19M, among other websites) and learned that Dec. 25th is usually a more serious, religious commemoration of Christmas in Ethiopia, and then January 7th is full of dancing and playing a sport like field hockey called “gena.” In their tradition, the shepherds celebrated the news of Jesus’ birth by playing this game with sticks that have hooked ends. Presents are small and not emphasized. I suspect my little friend’s parents would have been proud of their son’s perspective on gifts when I had asked him about them!
Excited by all this education I was receiving about Epiphany, I remembered that my brother-in-law had given my family and I a little packet of frankincense that he had purchased earlier this year in Dubai. Since the Bible says that the Wise Men (or Magi, or Kings) had brought baby Jesus a gift of frankincense, I brought it to show these kids who had just celebrated Epiphany. My Ethiopian friend knew it right away.
“That’s frankincense! It makes the whole house smell amazing when you put it in a pot and burn it,” he said.
Just in case you’ve always what you would do if you, like Mary and Joseph, were given a gift of frankincense, here is one idea: http://www.ehow.com/how_6824640_do-burn-ethiopian-frankincense_.html.
I’m so glad I had a chance to learn more about these neighbors at school! Happy Sunday after Epiphany!