Today we celebrate the Epiphany, the manifestation of our Lord in the adoration of the Magi. It is the twelfth day of Christmas; for many, the end of the Christmas season (though, for others, it ended December 26th). Some celebrate today with the exchange of gifts, rather than the day on which Christ’s birth is commemorated. In the frenzy of consumption, the pressure to “get” the holiday spirit and have this idyllic holiday time, we tend to forget the original reason for exchanging gifts at all – out of the love we (should) have for the Christ we (should) see in those around us, recalling the gifts the Magi gave the Christ child as they recognized him for who He is.
For the last twenty years or so, meaning since getting married and having a family of our own, and developing our own set of holiday traditions, we have started and ended the Advent/Christmas season in much the same way. The Advent wreath and candles come out the first Sunday of Advent. The candles are lit in succession over the weeks leading up to Christmas, and are burned at least for a little while each day, symbolizing the coming of Christ as the light of the world. We always have a fifth, white, “Christmas” candle in the center of the Advent wreath, too. We continue to burn all of them for at least a little while each day following Christmas until Epiphany, or until they are burned out. Using large novena candles, we usually have a little left at the end.
The Christmas tree goes up a week or two before Christmas and usually comes down around New Year’s or the weekend after. Between the Advent/Christmas wreath and candles, and Christmas tree, we usually have holiday lights on long after others have packed theirs away. But we do pack them away, and don’t leave them up year ’round. Holiday music also gets packed away today, to wait for the next first Sunday of Advent (or at least Thanksgiving weekend, which sometimes coincides with the start of Advent, and sometimes not).
It’s easy for the meaning behind the symbols and celebrations to get lost, for us to get “lost in the weeds” of consumerism and disputes over the origins of Christmas, whether it really is the date of Christ’s birth (it almost certainly is not), its re-use of pagan festivals and traditions, or any number of other things. But doing so means we lose out on the real value and meaning in the celebration.
Hope you were able to find at least a little of what Christmas really is about in your life this year.