Thursday, 4 January 2018

Gold

Happy Christmas! It’s still OK to say that. I’m writing this on January 4th 2018, so by my reckoning it’s the 11th day of Christmas, and those eleven pipers are busy piping as I write. My decorations are still up, my tree is still lit and will remain so until Epiphany, which is this Saturday, January 6th.


As it happens, we are this year hosting an Epiphany Party at my home on Friday evening - twelfth night - as a fundraiser for a community organisation of which I am Chairman (my town’s Twinning Association, which overseas our flourishing links with similar partner towns in France and Germany.) Our activities are entirely self-funded, so we hold fundraising events that enable us to offer hospitality to visitors from our partner towns. We did the same a year ago, and it was so popular that people asked for another one, and we were happy to oblige.

Our King Cakes at the 2017 Epiphany Party
However, I would still be celebrating Epiphany even without this event, and it seems to me a crying shame that we neglect this opportunity to prolong the fun of Christmas into January – as many other countries, not least our European neighbours do.

Epiphany commemorates the arrival to visit the baby Jesus of the Wise Men (often referred to as the Three Kings, even though there is no reference in the Bible to there being three of them, or to their being Kings). But of course the word Epiphany also carries a more general, secular meaning of "a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation". 

The story of the Wise Men bringing gifts - Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh - lies behind the tradition of exchanging presents at Christmas. In my house, in a tradition inherited from my late parents, we mark the last day of Christmas by exchanging one last present (a small symbolic gift), and take the tree down, but we have also adopted the French tradition of the “Galette des Rois”, whereby a cake is served, containing a charm, the recipient of which is named “King” for the day and is crowned with a paper crown and allowed to order the rest of the family around for a bit. When our children were little, we used to ensure that one of them got the charm, thereby giving them the right to turn the tables for a bit by requiring us to do the washing up or some other task. Further details about how Epiphany is celebrated in other countries are available here:-


I find it sad and surprising that the retail and commercial trade doesn’t make any attempt to recognise Epiphany here in the UK. Shops jump straight from Christmas to Easter, with Creme eggs on sale from Boxing Day onwards, whilst card shops jump straight from Christmas to Valentine’s Day. The retail trade seems only too keen to seize on somewhat contrived and rootless dates like Black Friday, yet misses a trick in not acknowledging festivals like Epiphany, St Nicholas Day (December 6th) or Candlemas Day (February 2nd). I wrote about Candlemas in a previous post here.

This year (2018), Epiphany falls on a Saturday, giving the perfect opportunity for one final celebration of Christmas on a Friday evening, a nice end to the dreariness of back-to-work week at the start of January. Why not make a Galette des Rois and see who gets to be “King” for the day? And enjoy another Christmas drink while you’re at it. There are numerous recipes for the galette on the internet, such as this one:-


But you could always just make - or buy - any sort of cake according to tastes.

And as for so many festivals, there’s a wealth of hidden musical treasure to accompany the day. Here’s my selection of traditional sacred epiphany hymns and music seasoned with some secular songs with Epiphany meaning or lyrics. Who needs an excuse to listen to Spandau Ballet's iconic 80s classic Gold, a fitting title for this post?



Happy Epiphany!

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