Susan chuckled this morning after reminding me that her family hadn’t celebrated Epiphany when she was growing. I had reminded her that my family had, and for some reason she considers it slightly droll. It’s true that we did celebrate some holidays that my peers did not. I’m not certain why. In addition to Epiphany, we celebrated Saint Nicholas Day (aka Saint Nick’s Day) a month ago on December 6.
We celebrated all sorts of holidays that my friends did not. Christmas, yes. But also Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and another near-to-Christmas night when we placed our shoes at the top of the stairs and St. Nick (I think) came and filled them with treats. Pistachios. Chocolates. Silver dollars. (Source: Rabbit, Rabbit « virtualDavis)
Other Davis family habits and traditions make her chuckle as well, including rabbit-rabbit-ing the end and beginning of months; using “Christmas crackers“ to celebrate not only Christmas, but New Years, Thanksgiving, and just about any other festive meal; and corn cakes and turkey gravy as a customary follow-on meal after Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Although Susan thinks some of these observances amusing, it’s worth noting that she has embraced year-round crackers with gusto. Any excuse for miniature fireworks and crown-wearing appeals to her!
It was encouraging to hear Susan start the morning today with a chuckle. Today, of all days. Her spontaneous laughter instantly lifted the ominous if unspoken heaviness that had settled upon her, settled upon us, over the last 24 hours.
In addition to Epiphany, January 6 marks a more painful anniversary. Susan‘s mother, Shirley Bacot Shamel, passed away three years ago today. The loss remains palpable, and grieving is ongoing, intermittent, and usually unanticipated, triggered by a song, a memento, a photograph,…
Today’s melancholy was anticipated, and by yesterday memories were being shared. I knew that today would be difficult, but I hadn’t come up with any clever ways to support my beautiful bride.
But Susan’s early morning laughter lifted my hopes and prompted an epiphany! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Suddenly I had an idea how to transform this solemn day into a more joyful remembrance. Let’s start a new tradition of our own.
To follow my logic, if there is any (and I’d venture a suggestion that epiphanies needn’t follow the laws of logic), we might first take a look at capital “E”, Epiphany.
January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ. (Source: Merriam-Webster)
For some readers this is familiar. For others, not, so here’s a slightly more expansive explanation.
After the 12th day of Christmas, believers take down their festive decor. But they don’t let January 6—or January 19 for many Orthodox Christians who still abide by the Julian calendar—pass by without another Christmas-connected celebration.
Tied to biblical accounts of Jesus Christ’s birth and baptism, the holiday of Epiphany is a chance for Christians to reflect on the nature of God’s physical manifestation on Earth and pay homage to three important visitors in the biblical account of Jesus’ birth. (Source: National Geographic)
The three important visitors in the second explanation and the Magi mentioned in the first are one and the same. Also known as the three wise men, the three kings (sometimes even by name: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), and sometimes more by association with the gifts they bore: gold, myrrh, and frankincense.
If you’re anywhere as keen a Christmas carol aficionado as I am, you’re familiar with these three gift bearing gentlemen, but if not, you’ve at least a basic understanding now.
So that’s capital “E”, Epiphany. What about this morning’s lowercase “e”, epiphany?
Again I need to reach back a little. I’m as keen on getting and decorating a Christmas tree as I am on Christmas carols, and given the anticipation it represents (and the beauty it adds to mornings and evenings) I prefer to jumpstart Christmas by finding a handsome evergreen and decorating it midway between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that means I’m ready by New Year’s Eve for it to morph from crispy needle-dropping leftover to lush, colorful memory. But we rarely manage to get the tree down by New Year’s Eve or even New Year’s Day. So, in keeping with National Geographic’s observation, it had struck me that today might be the perfect time to un-decorate the Christmas tree.
But that’s not the epiphany. In trying to anticipate a way to brighten my bride’s morning on a particularly mournful morning, I thought wishing her a happy Epiphany and proposing that we start a new tradition of removing the Christmas tree each year on January 6 might shift her perspective and strike her innate sense of logic. But…
Shirley Bacot Shamel Day
The eureka moment catalyzed by Susan’s superpower smile and laugh suddenly made it all clear. Yes, we needed to launch a new family tradition. From now on Epiphany should be a holiday to celebrate the legacy of Susan’s mother. Three years ago we lost Shirley. On this day. And on this day we recognize three kings bearing gifts. Loose logic? No logic?!?! But sometimes the universe rhymes, and in that moment I could hear the singing underneath, connecting these nominally connected dots into a perfect picture of Epiphany as Shirley Day. Sure, we could remove ornaments from the tree, and I could drag it out back for wood chipping. But maybe we should think bigger. A hooky day. No work. A day to remember and celebrate and show our love for the lady who blessed our union before it even existed. (That story for another day.)
And so today we started a new family tradition. We canceled commitments, bundled into our ski gear, and headed into the snowy mountains for some outdoor bliss. And you know what? It worked. It recalibrated our brains. It lifted our spirits. Whether or not the tree is going to get tackled is still uncertain. But a delicious dinner this evening; a hot tub soak as we were enjoying the night Shirley passed; and some time together gazing up at a bright star that guided three kings, a star that Susan named after her mother three years ago, a star that now helps guide us; this is 100% certain.