Happy Epiphany Eve! Tomorrow is Epiphany and all over the world little children (and forty somethings!) will race to check their shoes or stockings to see what La Befana or The Three Kings have left for them in the tradition of St. Nick (which many people celebrate on December 6th).
In my effort to bring a little more celebration into my life, I've decided to celebrate Epiphany tomorrow which is also known as Three Kings Day (Tres Reyes) or Holy Epiphany in other parts of the world.
I am not a religious person and am not a member of any particular faith, but I consider myself to be a deeply spiritual person. I do pray and I do believe in spirit/God, but in my very own way that I don't often share, even with my close friends. However, my close friends do know that rituals and celebrations are right up my alley and to start the new year I am so delighted to have a little celebration over here honoring the traditions of many cultures.
In most cultures Epiphany is tied to Christianity in some way, but of course we know that most Christian holidays are rooted in earth centered celebrations that came long before Christ (Saternalia) and were moved to coincide with the new Christian calender. It is considered the twelfth day of Christmas or sometimes called Twelfth Night.
The basic pared down blog-length story is that on January 6th the Magi (The wise men or the three kings) arrived with their three gifts for Jesus. This is where many people stop the story.
However, if you move to Italy or Russia you will hear a story of a woman named La Befana (Italy) or Baboushka (Russia) who the Magi stopped for help finding the manger and of how she was such a diligent housekeeper that she wouldn't stop sweeping long enough to offer assistance or directions. Later, she regretted her actions and set about the land searching for them with gifts of her own. She never found the manger nor the wise men and still whisks around the lands on her broomstick leaving gifts for children every Epiphany Eve.
In Italy La Befana is revered and the children look forward to her as much as children other places look forward to Santa or St. Nick. There are regattas, parades and feasts, special breads cakes and cookies.
Other cultures have water blessings on Epiphany and in Spain it is called Fiesta de los tres Reyes Mages (Festival of the The Three Magic Kings) and when children open gifts the way many do Christmas morning. Children in Spain write letters to the three kings the way kids here write letters to Santa.
Here is a parade in Italy...note the most Nordic looking Italians I've ever seen! :)
In Greece, in addition to the blessing of the water, the Epiphany Dove will be released. To me this is so beautiful and interesting because doves were once a goddess symbol and of course became associated with Mary and Christ. Doves were later replaced with the winged cherubs so common in paintings of Mary.
At the bottom of this post I have listed many links to help further explain the many traditions and beliefs about Epiphany. You'll see that many sources go much deeper than I do. However, now I want to share what Epiphany means to me and how I plan to celebrate.
To me Epiphany is about renewal, changes in attitude and about giving freely of yourself and spirit. I think of Epiphany as a chance to renew my childlike energy, enthusiasm and belief. To welcome myself back into the new year with as much joy as anyone would welcome a baby that we knew to be a "Christ-Child".
I think of it as a time to appreciate our unique gifts that are not material...our talents, family, friends, life blessings etc. I love that La Befana regretted not stopping her sweeping to help the Magi (in that particular story) and set about to give all children gifts. I love that she is most certainly the Goddess of Good Housekeeping! Some stories tell of how La Befana lost a child of her own and while I don't go into it with many new friends, my old friends know that I lost a child of my own too. I love that there are children in my life and this most recent holiday visit with my nephews really brought this home. I've often wondered if I could have done it...been a good mother and a few days ago I had an "epiphany" and realized that yes...I could have done it. I'm so peaceful knowing that even though I didn't get the chance to raise a child, I could have done it well.
I love this quote from Louise Erdrich, but until a few days ago it didn't mean as much. I mean, I understood it, but now I really feel honored that for whatever reason Spirit wants me to be OK and happy with my role as a precious aunt:
"Women without children are also the best of mothers; often with the patience, interest and saving grace that the constant relationship with children cannot always sustain. I come to crave our talk and our daughters gain precious aunts. Women who are not mothering their own children have the clarity and focus to see deeply into the character of children webbed by family. A child is fortunate who feels witnessed as a peron, outside relationships with parents by another adult."
What a gracious quote from a woman with children of her own.
Tonight I will set out our shoes with the strong faith that La Befana will visit and leave oranges, nuts and little trinkets. Three gifts to represent the three kings.
I will take a glass of water and pray over it while burning some incense and then meditate. During my meditation I plan to (I write plan because if you've ever meditated with a specific intention you know that sometimes Spirit has other ideas) focus on my blessings and compose a thank you note for my epiphany about motherhood. I feel that because of it, I can now mother myself in a way I haven't been able to in a long time. Then I'll call upon the dove to take my note to the Three Kings for delivery. I have a feeling it will land where it needs to. Then I will rinse the sink with my glass of water as a symbolic blessing and bidding farewell to the old year.
There is a certain little girl in our town who just went through a scary bout of illness and while she turned a corner this morning I think a visit from a La Befana devotee is in order. I hope she'll wake up happy tomorrow as long as her mother remembers to check the mail box! Ahem.
Tomorrow, in addition to my work, I plan to sweep the entire apartment and put away my ornaments and tree. I figure this is such a nice tribute to La Befana because she clearly values housework. This is a nice way of sweeping out the old year and bringing in the new. And traditionally this is when old trees were burned as a blessing and you might notice that many cities schedule tree-pickup and mulching on January 6th. I am also donating to a charity and have selected three gifts to donate to St. Vincent's.
As you can see, I've interpreted Epiphany in my own way and I invite you to think about how what you feel when you think of the day. You may not feel anything and this is totally cool, I mean the whole point for me this year is to think about what these things mean to me and to share.
If you have any family traditions for epiphany, please share here or on the studo facebook page...we can all learn from them. I know that it was originally earth centered so I wonder if there are any Native American traditions associated with with the day?
And speaking of sharing, here are a number of links for information and ideas: