Thursday, January 5, 2017

Epiphany Eve

Here we are, the day before Epiphany.  Tradition has it that we should take down our Christmas decorations today, to avoid bad luck in the new year.  Hmm.  I've always waited until Epiphany--although if I'm being honest, I often wait until my spouse does it, and he usually takes care of the undecorating on the day after Epiphany.

Once upon a time, we might have been preparing for 12th night festivities tonight, but I suspect that most of us don't celebrate these customs anymore.  In a post on The Writer's Almanac site, we learn:

"In some parts of England, Twelfth Night was also traditionally associated with apples and apple trees. People would troop out to their fruit orchards bearing a hot, spiced mixture of cider and ale for the 'wassailing of the trees.' They would pour the wassail on the ground over the trees' roots, and sing songs, and drink toasts to the health of their orchards. They also hung bits of cider-soaked toast in the trees to feed the birds. The attention paid to the orchards during the wassailing would be repaid with a bountiful harvest the following fall.

English settlers in the Colonies brought the Twelfth Night tradition with them. In colonial Virginia, it was customary to hold a large and elegant ball. Revelers chose a king and queen using the customary cake method; it was the king's duty to host the next year's Twelfth Night ball, and the queen was given the honor of baking the next year's cake. George and Martha Washington didn't usually do much for Christmas except attend church, but they often hosted elaborate Twelfth Night celebrations. It was also their anniversary; they'd been married on January 5, 1759. Martha Washington left behind her recipe for an enormous Twelfth Night cake among her papers at Mount Vernon. The recipe called for 40 eggs, four pounds of sugar, and five pounds of dried fruit. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that Christmas became the primary holiday of the season in America, and at that point, Twelfth Night celebrations all but disappeared."

I love the idea of sharing a celebration with the orchards and the birds who live there.  Down here in South Florida, I'd share my wassail with my bougainvillea trees, which seem to be blooming beautifully this morning.

Some years ago, on Jan Richardson's blog post, I read about an interesting tradition, Women's Christmas, which is traditionally celebrated on Epiphany:  "In some parts of the world, Epiphany (January 6, which brings the Christmas season to a close) is celebrated as Women's Christmas. Originating in Ireland, where it is known as Nollaig na mBan, Women's Christmas began as a day when the women, who often carried the domestic responsibilities all year, took Epiphany as an occasion to enjoy a break and celebrate together at the end of the holidays."

She closes her post with a poem/blessing, the last stanzas of which moved me this morning, and I'll probably think about it often as I move through today and tomorrow:

"Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome

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