Growing up, I loved learning new words. Whenever I asked my parents the meaning of a new word, they told me to “look it up in the dictionary.” One of those words was epiphany. According to Webster’s Dictionary, epiphany means: a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. (2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking (3) an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
In the Christian calendar, Epiphany always begins on January 6. Christians believe that it took the Magi 12 days to travel to Bethlehem for the epiphany when they recognized Jesus as the son of God. With Christmas as the first day of Christmas, every one of the 12 days celebrates a different saint, from St. John the Apostle on Dec.27 and the Virgin Mary on Jan. 1.
The current version of the song, 12 Days of Christmas is over 100 years old. The first known version of it is in a 1780’s children’s book called Mirth Without Mischief. It is a myth that the song was written by persecuted Roman Catholics to teach scripture to their children without drawing the ire of those in power. Each numbered gift represents a symbol of Christianity: “three French hens” for the holy trinity. The 12 Days of Christmas was sung on Twelfth Night (Jan. 5) which is considered the end of the Christmas season, it was a great night of feasting in centuries past. Some cultures still celebrate the Feast of Epiphany with King’s Cake, a coffee cake with purple, green, and yellow icing to commemorate the visit by the magi to the Christ Child. Some Protestant churches celebrate Epiphany for an entire season until the beginning of Lent.
Epiphany is a word that we use in our family to explain “a light bulb” moment. For example: my homeschooled youngest child pleaded to attend school in high school, so we made all of the necessary preparations, buying supplies and uniforms. Off she went on her first day full of anticipation. The first words out of her mouth after school were “I’ve had an epiphany, mainstream school isn’t for me, I didn’t learn a single thing’!
In my high school English class we read James Joyce’s Portrait of a Young Man. James Joyce doesn’t actually use the word epiphany in the book but the main character suddenly recognizes his destiny as he leaves his boyhood behind. I wrote epiphany! in the margin of that page and made mention of my discovery in class. It’s wonderful that newly learned words pop up all over the place! Twelfth Night and Epiphany mark the start of Carnival season in many countries. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a comedy about love being celebrated in a big way.
Kate Emery General is a retired chef/restaurant owner that was born and raised in Casper, Wyoming. Kate loves her grandchildren, knitting and watercolor painting. Kate and her husband , Matt are longtime residents of Cambridge’s West End where they enjoy swimming and bicycling.