Our guest author Daniel offers a Family-Night-style lesson celebrating an ancient Christian holiday that might have escaped our notice. Daniel is a teacher and father who loves bird-watching and studying religion.
Every year on January 6th, millions of Christians around the world celebrate a holiday called Epiphany. In Spain and Latin America, they call it El Día de los Reyes (“Three Kings Day”), in Sweden it is Trettondedag Jul (“Thirteenth Day Yule”), and in Ethiopia they call it Timkat (though their different calendar puts it on January 19th). Disneyland even hosts a 5-day celebration! It is officially “The 12th Day of Christmas,” and is the day on which people of many cultures exchange their Christmas gifts.
The reason for this holiday is contained in the word Epiphany, from the Greek, which means “to make manifest,” “to reveal,” or “to appear.” First celebrated in the 4th century AD, it traditionally commemorates three New Testament events during which Jesus Christ was “revealed” to the world:
- the visit of the wise men (usually called The Magi) shortly after his birth, when baby Jesus was heralded as a king for all people;
- Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, when the Spirit of God descended and a voice spoke from heaven, “This is my beloved Son;”
- and the wedding at Cana, at which Jesus’ first public miracle took place when he revealed his divine powers by changing the water into wine.
Each culture has developed rich traditions as a part of their celebration of Epiphany, ranging from the leaving of children’s shoes outside their doors in hopes that the Three Kings will fill them with gifts during the nighttime, to the baking and eating of a “King Cake,” to putting on massive and glorious parades that culminate in ritual re-enactments of the baptism of Jesus. Christians the world over have developed an impressive variety of religious feasts, blessings, sacred processions, fasts, and musical celebrations in honor of Epiphany. It is the climax of the ancient “Twelve Days of Christmas.” It is the merry-making “Twelfth Night.” It is a world-wide communal celebration of the revelation of Jesus Christ to all mankind.
Study and Discussion (choose anything that interests you)
Read and discuss the scriptures associated with the three traditional “Epiphany” events. What does each “reveal” about Jesus?
- The visit of the Magi (Matthew 2)
- The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3: 13-17 plus JST; Mark 1: 9-11; Luke 3: 21-22; John 1: 32-34)
- The Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2: 1-11)
Brainstorm, Talk, and Write:
- If we were to celebrate three latter-day events for a new kind of Epiphany, which would you choose? Which events in the history of our church “revealed” Jesus to us in essential ways?
- What about you and your personal experience with Jesus? Can you recall some of the events in your life in which Christ was “revealed” to you in any particular way?
- Share your memories and experiences with the members of your group if you feel like it.
- Write them in a journal or elsewhere and revisit these memories each January 6th with a prayer of gratitude and celebration for those events in which Christ “revealed” himself to you.
Expand Your Knowledge:
- Search your library of books, the internet, or “The LDS Scripture Citation Index” (scriptures.byu.edu) for more information and insights about the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the wedding feast at Cana. Work together and make it fun for your group! Share what you have learned with the others in your group (this can be as structured or as informal and free-wheeling as you’d like). If you keep a scripture study journal, this might be a good time to write down any new insights.
Activities: Baking, Service, Art, and Video (choose any that interest you)
- Bake and eat a King Cake! Search the internet for ideas and recipes that look good to you. There are several yummy varieties out there – be sure to look up recipes for La Galette des Rois (a French pastry cake), Rosca de Reyes (the Spanish or Latin American variety), Dreikönigskuchen (a Swiss recipe), and Gâteau des Rois (another French variety). Before you eat it, say a prayer in which you all take turns thanking God for events in your life in which Jesus Christ was “made manifest” to you in some way. Watch out for the toy hidden inside!
- Take three gifts to a family in need. Do it in grateful remembrance of the gifts of the Magi to baby Jesus and his humble little family.
- Search the vast “art museum” that is the internet for artwork depicting the three Epiphany events from the life of Jesus (for the visit of the wise men, the precise terms “Adoration of the Magi” and “Journey of the Magi” will be useful). Try to find images from a variety of cultures and eras and using a variety of mediums (Christianity has a rich artistic heritage in painting, stained glass, tile murals, and stone carving to name a few). Look closely at and ponder your favorite images and discuss the message or feeling each image conveys to you about Jesus. Which images speak the most directly to your heart? Which most closely reflect your personal experience of Jesus Christ? Which inspire your devotion?
- Try your hand at religious art or musical expression, whether you’re a professional artist or a complete beginner. Choose an “Epiphany” theme and depict it in an artistic way: draw a picture, make a play-doh sculpture, write a song, paint with watercolors, use markers on aluminum foil, make Epiphany-themed pancakes – use your imagination! Try to pour your heart into the project, regardless of your skill level, offering your devotion to Christ through artistic expression.
- Explore the internet for videos of people from a variety of religious cultures celebrating Epiphany and Three Kings Day (and don’t forget “Timkat” or “Timket”). What do people do? Why do they do it? As a group, think up some ways you might want to incorporate any of these religious traditions into your own celebration of Epiphany with your family and friends. Now, let’s celebrate!