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How do you celebrate January 6th?

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  • How do you celebrate January 6th?

    January 6th is celebrated around the world by Christians as a religious holiday known as Epiphany orTheophany, which translates from the Greek as the 'vision of God' signifying the presentation of Jesus, the son of God, to the Gentiles. Now I'm not about to get into a religious post here but having traveled a little over the years I'm reminded of derivations of the celebrations of January 6th I've experienced which I'd like to share.

    Back in my native England January 6th is known as the Twelfth Night, ie the twelth day after Christmas, and has been celebrated from the Middle Ages onwards by 'mumming'and the 'wassail'. Mumming was the performance of folk plays, by mummers (semi professional actors) either in the street or going house to house. It was also a tradition to give the first performance of new plays in theatres on this day, for example Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Wassailing was the singing of carols by groups of indivuals visiting house to house but also included singing carols in apple orchards as a form of blessing for the coming year's harvest.The wassailers often quenched their thirst and staved off the cold between songs by drinking spiced hot cider from a 'wassailing bowl'. On a more practical note I remember that my father insisted that Christmas decorations be removed from the home on the Twelfth Night to signify that the festivities were over and it was back to work! This ending of the festive season links back to the tradition of putting out the embers of the burning Christmas Yule log which would be allowed to smoulder for 12 days from Chrismas onwards. Charcoal from the cooled embers would be saved and used to rekindle the Yule log at the next Christmas festivities.

    In Glamorganshire, Wales, another custom on the Twelfth night was to bake a massive bread cake to divide up and share between local friends and family. The baked cake was initially divided into three pieces, representing Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Three Wise Men (the Magi). It would often have ring concealed in the bake and whoever received the piece of cake with the ring was elected King or Queen to watch over the day's celebrations.

    I lived in Cyprus for a while and there the locals celebrated 'Phota' (translated as Lights). This festival was based on a Blessing of the Waters, ie the sea, and the lifting of a temporary ban placed on sailing on the rough winter waves which are typical during the festive season when it was thought that mischievous 'goblin' type sea spirits would try to tempt Christian sailors away from their faith. The festival involved tossing a ceremonial cross into the cold waters which was then retrieved as a symbol of good luck by the first brave soul to dive in and grab it.

    Moving on into Europe I was once in Germany for the 6th and was treated to the sight of a close harmony singing quartet known as Sternsinger (Star singers), who travelled house to house, dressed up as the Three Wise Men, with the leader carrying a star on a long broom pole. In return for singing each household would offer them small gifts or donations to a local charity.

    Finally, in my home of Mexico, January 6th, whilst also being signaled as the Epiphany on church calendars, is more commonly known as El Dia de Los Reyes (the Day of the Kings) - the day the Magi deliver gifts to the baby Jesus. Before the onslaught of Christmas commercialism from western cultures Mexican children would write their Christmas letters before the 6th to the Magi asking for gifts. On the night of the 5th figurines of the Magi would be placed in the home's nativity scene and the children would leave out an old pair of shoes, often with a little hay stuffed inside and a treat of a plate of cookies and milk for the Magi and their transport. In the morning of the 6th lucky children would awake to find presents placed under the shoes. Later in the day a large baked sweet bread ring decorated with candied fruits, called the 'Rosca de los Reyes, (The Ring of the Kings) would be shared between family and friends. In a similar tradition to the Welsh cake mentioned earlier the bread dough would included hidden in the bake a small model of Jesus. Whoever pulled out the figure would be required to host a party for the same group of people on February 2nd, Candlemas day, and would be expected to provide as food Mexican Tamales - a favourite steamed savoury or sweet cornmeal dish wrapped in corn cob outer leaves or banana leaves.

    Now I'm sure that amongst our forum members around the world there are other traditions for January 6th to add to those I've experienced so how about you share them in this post.

    And for a couple of my less scrupulous buddies let me just add that cracking open a six-pack doesn't count!!!

    Looking forward to any variations on this theme and to all I wish a slightly belated but no less sincere Happy and Prosperous New Year
    Jim in Mexico

    Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
    - Albert Einstein

  • #2
    thanks for the info jim do you mind if use the information in my sunday school class


    • #3
      This is the first I've heard of the 6th of January as a holiday.
      The traditions you mention sound alot similar to the santa claus and Christmas theme...


      • #4
        I think I'll celebrate this holiday by working a whole lot slower the rest of the day.


        • #5
          Thanks Jim, for posting this. I think it's unfortunate that many Americans have lost touch with the traditions of our ancestors. Sure we've created some of our own, but Epiphany and by the same token, Advent, have lost much of their meaning in America, not just in their spiritual significance, but their cultural significance as well. Our traditions help define us as a people and we should be more mindful of them.

          It was a very interesting read and I look forward to the responses.
          Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter. Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."


          • #6
            here in ireland the 6th of january is womens little christmas ,or is it little womens christmas,
            anyway thisn is the time where all those mums or women who worked hard over the holiday get a break and have a night out,and the men stay at home,,,,,,,supposidly
            not doing much
            and busy doing it

            having fun making sawdust.



            • #7
              THANK YOU JIM, for that reminder & wonderful thought. I agree with Bill too, that we in the U.S. have lost touch. I have often wished that we would not put so much emphisis on how great a gift is, rather than just giving. I think it won't be long & we will even loose the english language, because no-one pays attention to it's importance. Thanks again Jim. HAPPY NEW YEAR


              • #8
                Update - well for once it seems I've missed out on an Italian adventure. By a strange coincidence I just flipped on the news to see a live news video of a local Epiphany custom just outside a town about 20 kms away from me where they celebrate ' The Burning of Befana' - or the Burning of the Witch. Here's some info I gleaned from a blogspot

                January 6th, Three Kings Day, is also the day when Italians burn “la Befana” – the witch. All around Northern Italy, people build many bonfires all around the fields, up to 10 feet high, or even bigger. Some of them have a mannequin on top signifying the “Befana.” The bonfires are typically built by farmers in their fields, and comes from the tradition of burning the leftover crops and welcoming a new harvest season with the New Year. The farmers welcome visitors with homemade wine, polenta (corn bread), salami and other succulent food for all visitors to enjoy.

                Italians use Christmas stockings on January 6th. The children hang their stockings on January 5th for the Befana to fill them with candies (if they were good kids), or carbone (coal) if they were naughty. The coal is made of sugar cubes but resembles the real thing. The Befana is believed to fly on her broom with a sack of candies, or coal, and drops them in the kids’ stockings. The Befana is the female version of Santa Claus in a way. Her means of transportation are more economical than a sleigh with reindeer.
                The conductor of the report interviewed an old farmer who said that the ashes of the fire are used to spread on the soil to bless it for the coming year. He also said that depending on the amount of smoke the fire made as 'la Befana' was being burnt and the direction in which the sparks flew gave a good indication of whether his fields would be blessed with good harvest or not.

                It seems that there was a lot of free wine and snacks being handed out at this celebration which was something else I missed out on! Ah well, I guess I can't win them all - LOL!

                jim do you mind if use the information in my sunday school class
                No problem Tony - I'd be pleased if you share it.
                Taking up Bill's very valid comment, I also think its very important to pass on these snippets of culture and traditions, religious or otherwise, to the next generation to give them some knowledge of where they've come from. In a similar vein I also remember someone once saying something like 'that only by understanding our past can we clearly plot our direction for the future'.

                Tonight I'll be Skypeing my 10 yr old son Kevin back home in Mexico and sharing this information with him - after first asking him of course if the Magi came up with his goods. I know he'll be interested in the stories, which as a father makes me very proud.
                Last edited by jim_mex; 01-06-2012, 12:02 PM.
                Jim in Mexico

                Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
                - Albert Einstein


                • #9
                  Anybody know the cultural history of Groundhog's day? Also has it's roots in Christianity.


                  • #10
                    I had totally forgotten about the Jan 6th date and it's relevance. Thanks for the reminder and also lesson on other countries traditions.
                    "Still Montana Mike"

                    "Don't worry about old age--it doesn't last that long."
                    Mike's Wood-n-Things LLC


                    • #11
                      I celebrate by putting all the decorations back up in the loft , later it will be Vodka or Whisky and coke (Yup not a whisky purist <shame>) Friday nights were made for it. But seeing as the decorations are now safely stored away again, and I have been up and down the loft ladder goodness knows how many times this past couple hours, I reckon I will need a drink.
                      The Journey Is Everything.


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                      • #12
                        I celebrate by putting all the decorations back up in the loft , later it will be Vodka or Whisky and coke (Yup not a whisky purist <shame>)
                        Nice one Sunlion - sounds a lot like my dad - get the decorations put away and take a whisky to wash the dust from the loft from his throat. Whisky and coke has also gone down my throat several times in the days when I frequented the bars as a youth back home in Derbyshire and well before I became anything like discerning regarding alcohol consumption. This Christmas, however, I had a rare and very enjoyable treat. In between the bottles of Grappa in the local Italian liquor store I spotted a a bottle of Talisker 12 year old single malt whisky and immediately grabbed it as my special Christmas tipple. Now that stuff drunken neat is like ambrosia of the gods!!!

                        Anybody know the cultural history of Groundhog's day? Also has it's roots in Christianity.
                        @Martzy - I knew that Groundhog day coincided with Candlemas day but not much else, so thanks for peaking my curiosity. I found the following web link which is really interesting and has given me yet more trivia to stash in my already overcrowded skull. Well worth a read

                        Groundhog Day and Religion
                        Jim in Mexico

                        Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
                        - Albert Einstein


                        • #13
                          Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year, Jim! I agree on your description of the Talisker. There was a bottle around my house a few years ago, but alas, even ambrosia has an end, so my New Year cheer for you goes with Caol Ila of the same age. Hopefully you can accept that?

                          Sunlion, your choice of companion for the whisky make me understand how you can come up with all those archaic words in the wordgame...
                          Ivar ("treslakter" - read as "woodbutcher")

                          The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time. (Friedrich Nietzsche)


                          • #14
                            When I lived in Spain that was when I learned how to celebrate 3 kings day. Still do. . . . . . . . these 30 years later.

                            I've Got A Lot More To Learn
                            About Leaving Battlegrounds Alone
                            "~~ Molly Venter


                            • #15

                              I celebrated it like most every other day by getting out of bed and going to work. LOL

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