“We’re not lost; we’re just on an adventure.”
That statement has become a motto for my husband, Mark, and me. Ever since we first began dating years ago—and to this day with our four kids in tow—we have made a point of trying to discover new things and places. More than once we have been pleasantly surprised that the best discoveries we have made have been when we were completely unaware of where we were or where we were headed.
This month, as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, I like to think that in some ways I have a special connection with the three wise men. They weren’t sure of where they were headed or what they would discover, but they went anyway. And in the end it turned out to be a really great adventure with a wonderful ending.
The Official End of the Christmas Season
The Feast of the Epiphany—which in the United States is observed on the Sunday after January 1—is the day we celebrate that adventure and what it means to us as Catholics. The feast’s traditional date, January 6, marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, and celebrates the arrival of the three wise men, or the Magi, in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Upon their arrival, the wise men—which tradition has named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar—are said to have presented Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The word epiphany means “manifestation,” which is exactly what the Magi represent—Jesus’ manifestation to the outside world. One place where the three wise men are still held in very high esteem is in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries where they celebrate El Día de Los Reyes. On the night of January 5, los reyes magos—the three wise men—deliver gifts to children.
Yet, despite their important role in the story of the birth of Jesus, the feast day honoring them and what they represent is often overlooked in the post-Christmas hustle and bustle. I’ll confess that there has been more than one year that I have found the wise men from my Nativity scene still hanging out on the windowsill where I placed them before Christmas, long after the other figurines have been carefully wrapped and put away.
The Season’s Not Quite Over Yet
If in the past you’ve been guilty of skipping over the part of the celebrations that take place after Christmas Day, take some time to refocus on this final day of the Christmas season. Here are some suggestions:
• Take a day trip. Go someplace you’ve never been before.
• Try something new. The wise men were taking a chance by making their journey. Step out of your comfort zone and try something you’ve never done before but have always wanted to do, such as painting, playing an instrument, learning a new sport, etc.
• Celebrate Epiphany. By the time January 6 rolls around, most people already have their Christmas decorations packed away. Resist that temptation this year and leave the decorations up until the Feast of the Epiphany, which marks the end of the Christmas season. Gather together as a family, have a special dinner, and then take down the decorations. Talk about your favorite holiday moments while you’re bringing the season to a close.
• Take advantage of the downtime. Once Christmas Day is past, you’ll probably have fewer commitments and a little more free time to yourself. Use the time between Christmas and Epiphany to reflect on the meaning of the season. Examine whether you are fully experiencing and taking advantage of the whole Christmas cycle— right through the Feast of the Epiphany. Also, read the story of the Magi from Matthew’s Gospel—Matthew 2:1-12.
For Teens: Keep the Season Going
Now that Christmas Day has passed, I’m sure that most or all of your presents have been opened and given out. But for Catholics, the 12 days of Christmas actually occur after Christmas.
In the Christmas carol “The 12 Days of Christmas,” we sing about a gift being given on each of those 12 days. Now I’m not suggesting that you make everyone on your Christmas list wait until after Christmas to receive a gift from you, but perhaps you could choose one person and continue the season by giving a small gift on each of the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany. The gifts could be something small such as their favorite candy bar. Or if you’re running short on money after Christmas, make your gifts some small acts of kindness.
For Kids: What an Adventure!
When the three wise men finished their journey to Bethlehem, they must have had quite a story to tell. What kind of adventures have you had? Write the story of your adventure and draw some pictures to go with the story. Maybe your adventure was a vacation you went on or something you and your friends did in your own neighborhood. Share your story with your family.