Monday, January 5, 2009

The Eve of Epiphany

Tomorrow will conclude the "Twelve Days of Christmas." The church calendar calls it "Epiphany" and it is celebrated in honor of the arrival of the Magi, bearing gifts to the newborn King. As it has evolved in Christian tradition, it has also come to be celebrated in recognition of the life of the boy Jesus, the only events to which the Gospels bear witness are the visits to the temple at age eight days and again at age twelve years, and the flight into Egypt.

So this is a post about the night before Old Christmas. My mother's people were from the mountains of Appalachia and my parents lived there for several months when I was an infant. The Scotch/Irish settlers in these hills bore with them the traditions of their earlier lives; and they kept many of those traditions alive. Mama told me these tidbits about what I later came to know as Epiphany, a term not frequently used in the church milieu in which I was raised. She said that on the eve of Old Christmas, if one were able to sneak quietly to the barn or to the field in which the animals were, he would hear, precisely at the midnight hour, the beasts "praying," which is to say there would be a cacophony of animal voices, mooing, braying and baaing, and that the animals would in fact kneel in recognition of Christ's birth. Mama also told me that no matter how hard the ground might be frozen, the elder bushes would put forth new shoots on this night! Or so, she said, the people said.

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