Friday, January 6, 2012

Feast of the Epiphany

The Three Kings by Maltese artist Emvin Cremona, Ghaxaq parish church, Malta

Even though the liturgical celebration of the Epiphany will be on Sunday January 8, many countries still observe it on this day, January 6th, which is also considered as the 12th day of Christmas. Many beautiful paintings have been produced over the centuries to depict this scene of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar presenting the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn Jesus. The gifts represent respectively the characteristics that Jesus had, as a King (gold,) as a God (frankincense,) and as a human being (myrrh.) The above painting is from the ceiling of St Mary's parish church in Ghaxaq, Malta, painted by Chev. Emvin Cremona, a Maltese painter and one of my favorite artists. The entire ceiling of the same church has other paintings representing scenes from the life of the Blessed Mother.

It was in the 4th Century that December 25 was finally adopted by the Western Christian Church as the date Christ's birth date. It is believed that this change in date gave rise to the tradition of the "12 Days of Christmas." While the Western Christian Church celebrates December 25th, the Eastern Christian Church to this day recognizes January 6 as the celebration of the nativity. January 6 is still considered in Italy and the Spanish countries as the day when the presents are open. Imagine these children having to look at the presents under the tree for 12 days and not being able to open them. In a way it makes sense to open gifts on the day Jesus received his 3 gifts from the Kings. But tell that to American children!

In Slavic and eastern European countries, including Poland, there is a tradition that on the evening before the feast of the Epiphany, traditionally they recite prayers, blessed dried herbs would be burnt and their aromatic smell would fill the house. Doorways would be sprinkled with holy water and the head of the house would write with chalk C + M + B and the year above every door in the house door and say: "Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar, protect us again this year from the dangers of fire and water." C + M + B has traditionally been translated with Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, however, there is a tradition that it stands for "Christus Mansionem Benedicat" (Christ bless this home).

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