The Crown Jewel of Christmas
Bavarians know how to do Christmas. I should know. My maiden name is Beingessner.
One thing they know about Christmas is that it should last longer than one morning of frantic unwrapping.
Traditionally, of course, Christmas has 12 days — starting Dec. 25 and ending on King's Day, Jan. 6. That's the feast of the Epiphany. Or, if you prefer, “The Adoration of the Magi” or “The Manifestation of God.” At one time, it was called a “second Nativity.” The idea is that Christ was born on Christmas day, but his significance was revealed on Epiphany.
That's when the kings came and knelt next to him, the wise men from far away, the gentile magi acknowledging the power of the newborn baby who came to save all people from sin — even them.
Pope John Paul II is no Bavarian, but he understands the lesson of Epiphany well.
He said that the feast of the Epiphany doesn't merely mark one historical event — it celebrates the journey of faith that we all complete when we follow the star of God's light in our consciences and human reason.
“The three personages from the East followed this light with certainty even before the appearance of the star. God spoke to them with the eloquence of all creation: he said that he is, he exists; that he is the Creator and Lord of the world,” he said in one Epiphany homily, “The Magi responded with faith to that inner Epiphany of God.” We are meant to do the same.
My husband and I are trying to make this awe-inspiring feast day a true “event” in the lives of our children. The trick is to deliver the meaning of the day in a package made for kids. The solution: Make sure you use all of their five senses. Here are some ways we have celebrated the Epiphany in our home.
E Traveling nativity scene figures. The three kings of our nativity set don't make it to the manger until Jan. 6. Before that, they are stationed far away, and move a little closer every day. The kids love it. Make sure they know that the magi long to see the baby Jesus and wish they didn't have to wait!
E Epiphany dress-up and give-away. The three kings sound like a friendly ghost, a Harry Potter creature and a Swiss theologian. But they're not. According to an old Christian tradition, they are named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Each quite a splendid figure in himself. Our kids like to dress up like the three kings.
We ask them each to pick a toy or book they have enjoyed over the last year that they can give to the poor. In costume, they place their gifts in front of the manger scene in our house.
E King Day gifts. This one takes some of the sting off the Epiphany give-away. There is always gift-giving for the children on Epiphany. Just as St. Nicholas delivers small gifts on Dec. 6, the wise kings drop off a present or two on Jan 6.
E Dismantle the tree. All good things, alas, must end. The Christmas season traditionally ends on Epiphany. Take down the Christmas tree on Epiphany and put it out. But tell the kids that this just means that they have to live Christmas in their hearts!
E King Cake. If there's lingering sadness over the loss of the Christmas tree, perhaps some cake will put the memory to rest. Make it in a ring mold that can be decorated like a crown, and bake a ring, coin or other metal object into it. Then, the lucky family member whose piece produces the hidden treasure will get a prize.
Besides providing an exciting end to the Christmas season, King Cake bears all the winning trademarks of good Catholic family traditions : It combines kids and cake, hidden treasures and candy jewel decorations, hunting and finding, and a special prize.
This is highly appropriate for Christmas. Think of it as a birthday party for the baby Jesus, and a little taste of the greatest journey of all — following the star of God's light.