Celebrating Epiphany: Hallmark Days and Holy Days

The Christmas season is over. The twelve days of Christmas end today with the Feast of the Epiphany when the church celebrates the visit of the Magi to Mary and the baby Jesus.

While I was doing some research about Epiphany I found a couple interesting things:

First, in some places around the world Epiphany is called "Little Christmas" and people exchange small gifts to mark the end of the Christmas season. (So you might want to do that today. Buy a small gift for your kids and say "Merry Epiphany!" Go ahead, let Christmas live one more day. And tell the Advent story to your kids one last time this season.)

Second, as the end of the Christmas season Epiphany also marks the day to take down the Christmas greenery. (I like this idea. We leave our tree up way after Christmas. Now I can claim it's not from laziness. We are simply following tradition.)

And finally, in parts of Ireland Epiphany is called "Women's Christmas." To celebrate the honoring of Mary by the Magi the husbands of Ireland do the housework for the day.

This last struck me for two reasons. First, Jana has some Irish blood in her. I know this because Lucky the Leprechaun comes to our house every St. Patrick's day. As our boys sleep, Lucky turns the house upside down. Pictures are upside down. Chairs are overturned. Things are out of place. Bananas are found in odd places. And the boy's underwear is often found hanging from the lamps or overhead fan. Lucky is quite a character. But Lucky also leaves behind a treasure hunt to find a Pot 'O Gold. And our boys often wonder, "Why doesn't Lucky visit my friends at school?" And the answer is, "Because your mother is Irish, and so are you. Lucky visits the Irish."

So I was intrigued by how the Irish celebrated Epiphany.

The second reason I was intrigued was because I hate Mother's Day. Note, I don't hate my mom or Jana. What I hate are the retail-driven holidays that are not, in fact, holy days. These are largely creations of the marketplace and card manufactures. They are not holy days, they are Hallmark Days. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, etc. It's not that I think the sentiments are wrong, just the implementation and consumer-driven side to it all. I've always found the scheduled romance of Valentine's Day to be a little thin, perfunctory and stress-filled. Same with Mother's Day. I'm sure you can identify.

So when I saw how the Irish celebrated Epiphany I was intrigued. Here was a day that was like Mother's Day but actually was a holy day! It's a day when men bring gifts to a mother. Further, there are no Hallmark Epiphany cards. I checked. So in addition to buying a card and making lunch reservations at a packed out restaurant on Mother's Day I can do what the Irish men are doing today: Clean the house. I don't have to buy anything at all. It's a holy day free of the marketplace. As I scrub the toilet today it will be liturgical, not commercial.

Perfect! Jana is Irish and I've found a way to celebrate her motherhood independent of the Hallmark days. I've found our holy day.

Have a Blessed Epiphany!

And, if you'll excuse me, I have a house to clean.

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3 thoughts on “Celebrating Epiphany: Hallmark Days and Holy Days”

  1. Hi Richard! I have read your blog off and on for a few years, but just started following it when I started a blog of my own- literarycynic.blogspot. I am a Harding grad, but my dad, Mark Shipp, teaches adjunct Bible courses at ACU in the summer. I was just thinking about the commercialization of holidays. I often wonder if I could convince my family to forgo stressful gift giving, but I love giving gifts all the time, so that might not be the best idea. I wonder if maybe our ideas of reciprocity could change or our expectations of prescribed activity during these Hallmark Days. But I think most of all, we should focus on our loved ones rather than the checklist of traditions that hold little to no meaning in today's culture.

  2. Hi Sarah,
    In our family we've tried to wiggle free from the Hallmark Day norms. That way we get to celebrate but we do it on our own time and on our own terms.

    For example, we (Jana, critically) hate the lunch crush on Mother's Day. So, we take Jana to dinner on the Saturday night before Mother's Day. The restaurant isn't crowded, the waitstaff isn't stressed. We do a similar thing on Valentine's Day. Jana and I go out a day or two before. On Valentine's Day proper we have a candle-lite family meal with the boys. The boys help cook and there are rose pedals on the table, sparking grape juice in champagne glasses, the whole nine yards. It's the four of us spending time together on Valentine's Day evening, missing the crush in the world outside.

    In short, I think there are little ways to use the Hallmark Days, the good parts of them (i.e., an opportunity to celebrate others), without being tyrannized by them.

  3. Love this post! A friend sent me your way--and funny enough, we just helped celebrate the new year by following the Irish custom of "striking the house" with Christmas bread or cake and saying a prayer that the new year not be one frought with hunger... Aren't the Irish creative, yet practical?

    I'm not a fan of the Hallmark days, either. Not sure if my husband will go for the house cleaning, though. But I'll pass this along all the same :)

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