Manifest Duty

As slaves to Mammon our celebrations are frequently curtailed.  In agricultural culture, winter was a time when fields couldn’t be cultivated (at least in northern climes) and thus the twelve days of Christmas could be relaxed without much consequence.  The history of this holiday complex is fascinating, and while many of us have been back to work for a few days already, today, Epiphany, is the “official” end of the season.  Twelfth Night, in some traditions yesterday and in others today, was a day of celebration, the twelfth day of Christmas.  Ancient pre-Christmas holidays such as Saturnalia lasted several days.  Today’s business world frequently gives a Scrooge-like single day off and many of us spend our hard-earned vacation days to fill out the week that is inevitably slow at work otherwise.

In Christianity, until recent times, Epiphany was a bigger holiday than Christmas.  Of the two it was the original day for gift-giving,  That makes sense in the commemoration of the visit of the magi that Epiphany represents.  They were the first givers of Christmas gifts.  Since Jesus was Jewish the idea of a manifestation, or epiphany, to the gentiles became an important marker.  Magi are styled as Zoroastrians from Persia.  The story occurs only in the gospel of Matthew and clearly wasn’t intended to coincide with the arrival of shepherds and angels.  As the Epiphany story grew to include Christmas it also encompassed many of the shadowy events of Jesus’ early years.  His questioning of the teachers in the temple was a kind of epiphany, as was his baptism.  All these things came together during a fallow time and were sufficient reason to take it easy for twelve days between the end of December and the beginning of January.

Some of our employers have expressed surprise that things continue to run fairly smoothly with workers reporting remotely.  These same people also seem surprised that people come back from several days off refreshed.  I suspect that they are also astonished at how well their computers work after being rebooted.  Time off is sacred time.  Whether we dress it up with elaborate stories of kings, wise men, sages, or magicians traveling great distances to see a baby in a foreign nation or whether we make it the day when one cousin baptized another, Epiphany grew into a major feast in medieval times.  Today it’s just another work day.  And with it the end of another holiday season will need to last us until near the end of yet another year.

3 thoughts on “Manifest Duty

  1. Hi Steve,

    Growing up in South Florida, the Twelve days of Christmas were marked throughout the city. The many incarnations of the Nativity were ever present throughout the city, First was Christmas with smells and bells. Second was New Years Eve, with the big Orange Bowl Parade, where school marching bands competed for an entire year to gain a spot in the National televised portion of the parade. (there were 2 parts, local/national). Followed by the hallowed Dick Clark.

    Epiphany was a Huge Deal in the Latin community, with the Feast of the Three Kings. The Feast was marked with a parade through Coral Gables, a very affluent part of the city, known for expensive shops and manicured grounds.

    Growing up in South Florida, the influence of the many cultures of Cuba, the America’s and the Caribbean, brought with them their traditions, that worked their way into the consciousness of the regular WHITE Christian canon of the holidays.

    I chose to matriculate through the Latin pathway, my brother stuck to English. I had great opportunities to celebrate the many incarnations of religious practice throughout my life. Seminary threw a twist in there while it lasted. Lots of smells and bells, in both English and Spanish.

    Here in Montreal today, you get the English rendition and the Quebecois format of Religious celebrations, however muted this year by pandemic. Suffice to say, I’ve been around the world in as many years.

    Happy New Year.


  2. Pingback: Manifest Duty | Talmidimblogging

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