The Epiphany of Our Lord | For All the Saints

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling

The Epiphany of Our Lord: The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

Source: The Epiphany of Our Lord | For All the Saints

Today is one of the high feasts of the Church year, and the “last act,” so to speak, of the Nativity Cycle. Christmastide, proper, ended last night on Twelfth Night; today begins Epiphanytide, the significance of which is explained below:

“The name of this Feast of our Lord is derived from a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearing. Historically, Anglican Prayer Books have interpreted the name with a subtitle, ‘The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.’ The last phrase is, of course, a reference to the narrative of the Wise Men, the Magi, who appeared in Judaea from the East in order to worship the newborn King of the Jews.”

In the Western Church, including the Anglican tradition, the Wise Men are the major focus of this feast, and its accompanying season. But in the larger Christian tradition, Epiphany has a three-fold emphasis, and celebrates not only the visit of the Magi, but also Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, and his miracle at the Wedding in Cana, when he turned water into wine:

No photo description available.

The Wise Men – who very likely were indeed Persian Magi – are sometimes referred to as “the Three Sacred Kings” (“Los Tres Santos Reyes,” in Spanish-speaking countries, where this is a very important feast), as in the favorite carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Neither their countries of origin or their number are known for certain; these were not details the Gospel writers thought important enough to record.

But they are typically portrayed as being three in number, and often of different ethnicities, to reflect the fact that Christ came for all peoples and all nations. Kings or Magi, three or many, and wherever they originated, these somewhat mysterious figures are witnesses that Christ’s birth was of universal, not merely local, significance. For which we should rejoice!

Here is the Biblical account:

“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him… When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”

— Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11 (KJV)

May everyone who reads this enjoy a holy and blessed Feast of the Epiphany, and an equally blessed Epiphanytide!

Advertisements

Twelfth Night – Wassailing, and the Boar’s Head Feast

Anglo-Saxon tradition dictated that at the beginning of each year, the lord of the manor would greet the assembled multitude with the toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health”… the Wassailing celebrations generally take place on the Twelfth Night, 5th January.

Source: Wassailing | Historic UK

Tonight is Twelfth Night, the night of the Twelfth (and final) Day of Christmastide – although some traditionalists will continue to celebrate all the way up until Candlemas, on February 2nd, even I don’t (usually) go that far! One of the customs that grew up around Twelfth Night, in “Merrie Olde England,” was Wassailing (from “Waes hael,” Old English for “be hale,” or “be healthy” (*).


*  “Halig,” in Old English, from which we get hael, and from thence our (somewhat archaic) modern English word “hale,” can mean not only hale and healthy, but whole – think “holistic” – and even “holy.” These are all word-concepts that were closely related in the language and thought of our ancient ancestors!


Apple trees were wassailed, in hope of a good apple harvest in the Autumn, and groups of wassailers went from door to door – in a sort of cross between mumming and trick-or-treat – singing carols, and begging food, drink, and “a penny” (which of course was worth much more than one of our pennies: originally, a “penny” was a Roman denarius, and was reckoned as a day’s wage) from the householders. Here is one of the wassailing songs – probably the most famous!

For further information on both varieties of wassailing, read the linked article!

Another Twelfth Night custom that has experienced somewhat of a revival in recent years – especially in more traditional and liturgically-minded churches, but also some residential schools – is the Boar’s Head Feast.

No photo description available.

The centerpiece of the feast is the head of a wild boar (or nowadays, usually a domestic pig), and sometimes the whole animal, was roasted and carried ceremonially into the feasting-hall, accompanied by musicians and revelers singing a traditional carol (called, appropriately, “The Boar’s Head Carol”), the chorus of which goes,

Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino!

(“I bring in the boar’s head, giving thanks to the Lord!”)

The song is in what in musical terms is called the “macaronic” mode, which means that it combines two languages: in this case, English and Latin. It has been noted that

“The Boar’s Head Carol is ancient compared to most of the carols for Christmas. It actually was written in Middle English and titled, ‘The Bores Heed in Hande Bring I’ and wasn’t considered a Christmas Carol except for the custom of eating your finest meal at Christmastime. In that way, wild boar became associated with Christmas.”

This is only partially true, however. There is a Christmas, and therefore specifically Christian, meaning underpinning the song, as another commentator has pointed out:

“In medieval times if you traveled from village to village, you’d generally go by footpath through the woods. Being attacked by a wild boar was a very real possibility and a sharp stick wasn’t much of a defensive weapon. Wild boars tore up people, domestic animals, vegetable gardens, vineyards etc. so they weren’t looked upon fondly and were considered entirely evil, even demonic by the common people.”

Of course, even in pre-Christian times, wild boars were feared (and respected) by the ancient Celtic and Germanic peoples. Warriors often took them as what we might call today “totem animals,” for their ferocity, and the extreme difficulty in killing them. But to continue:

“The boar’s head decorated on a platter, served at Christmas, symbolized the fact that Jesus Christ came to this earth, born of a virgin, to defeat sin, death and the Devil. It was/is a celebration of Christ’s victory over the devil. The carol mentions the ‘King of Bliss.’ That is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ who gives us bliss by having won for us eternal life. It was a different culture and mentality in medieval times but sometimes, they were spot-on.”

It takes a mental shift for us to think of eating pork as symbolizing victory over the Devil! But when you look at it in its historic context, it makes sense. Alas, no Boar’s Head Feast for me this night! I long for the time when I can once again host a Twelfth Night gathering, but that time is not yet. However, I did enjoy crock-potted barbecued pork for supper, and am still enjoying a large mug of homemade wassail, made with Baugher’s apple cider (and mulling spices), with a splash of orange juice and a touch of honey. Delicious!

The boar’s flesh, on a plate I ate:
Bedecked with sauce, that was its fate!
O, wassail I shall drink ’til late,
Et manducare cantico!

Epiphany Chalking of the Doors | The Homely Hours

The chalking of the Door is typically done on January 6th on the Feast of the Epiphany and celebrates the revealing of Christ to the world in three events…

Source: Epiphany Chalking of the Doors | The Homely Hours

From the excellent blog, “The Homely Hours” – a traditional family liturgy performed upon the Feast of the Epiphany:

“This short liturgy is a way of yearly marking our homes, usually at the front or main entrance, with sacred signs and symbols to intentionally set our homes apart as places of Christian hospitality, as safe and peaceful outposts of the Kingdom of God in the world, as habitations of healing and rest. We again invite God’s presence into our homes and ask His blessing upon all those who live, work, or visit throughout the coming year.”

“C+M+B” has a dual significance: it represents the names of the Three Wise Men (Magi, or Sacred Kings), as traditionally named by the Church: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar; and it also stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for “Christ, this house Bless.” It is flanked by the numbers representing the year: this year, it would read

20 + C + M + B + 19

Please follow the link for more!

How America helped revive the Boar’s Head feast | Catholic Herald

https://anglophilicanglican.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/Screen-Shot-2018-12-17-at-10.55.45.jpg?w=840

“Yet as with Christmas itself, Anglo-Catholicism and a great many other good things, Romanticism opened up the early 19th century to a rebirth of the Boar’s Head…”

Source: How America helped revive the Boar’s Head feast | Catholic Herald

“The boar’s head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all the land…”

But not so rare, it seems, as it once was!

“Despite the cosmopolitan origins of so much of our distinctly American manner of celebrating Our Lord’s birth, in the popular mind… England is seen as the Christmas country par excellence. And among its customs that we try to emulate – in addition to the aforementioned carols services and the yule log – is the Boar’s Head Festival…

“The late 19th and early 20th centuries in the US saw an explosion of Anglophilia among the ‘better classes’… In this atmosphere, Dr Edward Dudley Tibbits, an Episcopal priest, brought the Boar’s Head tradition in 1892 to the Hoosac School in upstate New York, which he had founded three years previously.”

It was picked up by a number of Episcopal churches and cathedrals, and from thence has spread: “it can now be found at Lutheran, Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian churches as well… In recent years, it has finally come to a few Catholic churches too.”

I have tended to think of the Boar’s Head Feast as a Twelfth Night (Eve of the Epiphany) custom; but in fact it was not, of old, limited to that occasion. As this article notes, “In medieval England, a highly decorated boar’s head was a centrepiece of Yuletide feasting in abbeys and great halls alike,” although it is true that “it is usually offered during the Twelve Days after Christmas, and so helps emphasise that magical liturgical period between Christmas and Epiphany.”

Like many ancient customs, it may also – as the article again notes – serve as a useful means of evangelization! Such an event may attract those who would be unlikely to darken the doors of a church, under other conditions. And in a jaded, secular, and gloomily (or sometime manically) self-referential age, ancient customs and traditions hold a good deal of appeal, for many, and this trend seems only likely to increase.

And if the seemingly secular jollity points to higher, sacred truths – as the Boar’s Head Feast points to Christmas, and thus, the Incarnation of God’s Incarnate Word in the Person of His Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ – so much the better! For, after all:

“Our steward hath provided this,
In honour of the King of Bliss…

Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino!”

(“The boar’s head I bear, giving praises to the Lord!”)

Deo gratias!

The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Christmas | Intellectual Takeout

The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Christmas
The man who calls himself “Arthur Pendragon,” one of the more visible proponents of neopaganism in Britain, leads a Winter Solstice ceremony near Stonehenge.

Professor William Tighe argues that, actually, the pagans co-opted it from the Christians.

Source: The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Christmas | Intellectual Takeout

As we approach the Feast of the Nativity – “Christes Messe,” or Christmas – we begin to hear once again the complaints that Christians “stole” Christmas from Pagans, replacing an ancient pre-Christian celebration of the Solstice with the celebration of the Messiah’s birth.

It is unquestionable that many of the symbols and trappings we have adopted for our secular celebrations, from cut greenery to Christmas trees, have pre-Christian roots. And why should they not? In purely secular terms, every culture that moves into a new area adopts elements of what already existed.

And from a theological perspective, as I have mentioned on more than one occasion, the religious impulse comes from God and leads toward God; by that understanding, pre-Christian religions and spiritual traditions were reaching imperfectly toward the truth that Christianity expresses perfectly.

Why, then, should not aspects of those traditions which aren’t intrinsically opposed to the Christian message – and which, as in the case of light born amidst darkness, may even help to explicate it – be “baptized” into it? The answer is obvious: of course they should. Continue reading “The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Christmas | Intellectual Takeout”

Glories of the West: LUCIA – The night of light | Jonna Jinton

Sankta Lucia – the Feast of St. Lucia (“Lucy”), whose name means “Light” – is an ancient tradition in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries (although the Christian figure of St. Lucia originated in Sicily, interestingly enough). Her feast-day falls on the 13th of December, which in the Old (Julian) Calendar, would have been the Winter Solstice.

Although she is a Christian saint, with a Christian story, “Sankta Lucia” can also be translated “Holy Light,” and the folksy, homey rituals surrounding St. Lucia’s Day – in which the girl or young woman chosen to portray St. Lucia for that year, wearing a crown of candles, brings gifts of steaming-hot coffee and sweet rolls to her family (or village), while her attendants sing traditional songs – is a beautiful and moving enactment of the rebirth of light in the midst of the darkest time of the year.

This video was created by the incomparable Jonna Jinton, who writes,

“Lucia is a tradition in Sweden where we bring light to the darkness. Since many years back I have always gone out in the middle of the Lucia night to light up hundreds of candles in the forest, with the intention to spread light into the world.

“Maybe you have seen my earlier lucia-films here on my YouTube. But this year was special. Just as the other lucia-nights I prepared to get out and light up my candles. But this night, the forest surprised me.

“This film is for all the world. For all of you wonderful people out there ♥ I hope to be able to spread some light into your hearts. Thank you for taking the time to watch it.”

Do yourself a favour, and watch this in full-screen… and allow yourself to get lost in it. Magical!

Feast of St. Nicholas – December 6th

St. Nicholas Icon

A contemporary icon, in traditional style, of St. Nicholas, whose feast-day is the 6th of December. This is not the “jolly old St. Nick” of the secular mythos, mind you, but the passionately-dedicated orthodox Christian bishop of Myra, who reportedly got into a physical altercation with the presbyter Arius, who taught that Jesus Christ was not of the same substance as God the Father, but rather the first of all created beings, during the Council of Nicaea. However, it is he who evolved, in the public imagination, and by many steps and stages, into the “St. Nicholas” we all – even the most secular – know and, usually, love.

St Nicholas Day – cover pic

Today marks one of the steps in that evolution, for in Holland, traditionally, on the eve of St. Nicholas’ DAy, the children would put their wooden shoes outside the door of their room, in hopes of finding them filled with fruit, candy, and coins (today usually foil-covered chocolates), on the morning of December 6th. Why? Well, St. Nicholas quickly became known as the patron saint of children, after a legend in which he saved three daughters of a poor man from slavery (or worse – forced prostitution) by tossing a small bag of gold into their house each of three successive nights (in Europe “down the chimney,” but in Myra in Anatolia – now Turkey – it is more likely to have been through a roof-top entrance), to serve as their dowries.

No automatic alt text available.

From that it is not far to the image of a saint (or in later, secular interpretation, a sort of magical being who embodies “the spirit of Christmas”) who comes down the chimney with toys for good little boys and girls! He also became known as the patron saint of Holland, probably as an extension of his older status as patron saint of sailors: Holland was for a long time quite a sea-power. The Dutch – who settled part of the Eastern seaboard of what is now the U.S. – called him “Sinter Klaas.” And it is from that name that we now know him as “Santa Claus.” An interesting historic and linguistic transformation!

St Nicholas Day – cropped