In our family, the feast of the Epiphany has become a treasured tradition and way to end our Christmas season. At first, our observance of the Magi’s arrival consisted of a simple house blessing. We would snip off a branch of the Christmas tree and pour some holy water into a golden bowl (to represent the gift of gold). Then we would traipse through the house from room to room sprinkling holy water and speaking words of blessing. At the end of the sprinkling, we gathered at the front door and marked the doorpost with chalk. First, we would write the first two digits of the year, then insert letters C, M and B, before finishing with the last digits of the new year. This year our door will be marked: 20 + C + M + B + 22. The letters in the middle of the year stand for the legendary names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They also stand for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” which is Latin for “May Christ bless this home.” As the children got a little older, I taught them a couple of songs from my childhood – “Bless This House” – written in 1927 – and “Holy Ground” – written sometime in the 80s. After our house blessing, we would bless the food and have a feast.
One year we did substantial renovations on our home and decided to invite our contractors to join us for our blessing. We thought it might be a little awkward – none of the guys were very religious – but, in fact, they were really moved by our family tradition. When our other daughter, was in university, she called us asking if it would be “weird” to invite her friends over to her apartment for an Epiphany Party House Blessing. This family ritual really meant something to our children.
When the children were very young, we added a practice of giving them three small gifts. We tried to have these gifts related in some way to the story of the Epiphany. Hence, the origins of the annual star-shaped Christmas tree ornament. The other gifts varied from year to year. At one point we made a game of guessing what the gift had to do with Epiphany. Bath beads? A reference to frankincense. Lip balm? An allusion to myrrh. Chocolate macaroons? Camel poop, of course! The only thing that has remained consistent has been the gold foil covered chocolate money! One year we found blue star covered gift bags at the dollar store which have held these gifts each year for nearly fifteen years.
At some point, though I can’t remember when, we began setting the table with a gold tablecloth and using star-shaped placemats and twinkling lights. This is one of the many excuses we have to use our good china which, despite all odds, has never broken. When the children were younger, we would make gold crowns to wear during the meal. As they became older and this part of the tradition came to be regarded as “lame,” we gave up this element except if we happened to have small children joining us.
One year, our oldest daughter – who was about 4 at the time – suggested that since the wise men were from the East, we should have food from the East. In her mind, that meant Chinese take-out. And this it has been ever since. I wonder if life would have been a little easier for Mary, had there been a take-out restaurant next to the stable?
Our children have all grown but our annual Epiphany Party is still going strong!
Christine Way Skinner is a lay minister and author. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theology degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. She is currently working on a Doctorate in Theology at St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Christine loves trying to find inclusive, compelling and creative ways to pass on the church’s 2000 year old traditions. She enjoys exploring the arts, gardening and engaging conversations. Christine’s numerous publications can be found and purchased here.