Part 2 of My Christmas Journey
I’ve had an “EPIPHANY”. Someone I love very much alluded to this realization quite a while ago. We are made up and affected by not only the time and place that we live in, but everything that has added up to it. I had learned this long ago in high school psych class, rejected it later when fundamentalism claimed it was an excuse for sin and have come back around to understand this truth as nuanced.
Finding deep inner peace during a holiday season wrought with grief required an epiphany.
_Epiphany defined by Miriam Webster is: an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking; an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
Life since my beloved transitioned from this life to the next has been an ongoing epiphany, sometimes sharp and poignant other times slow and unfolding. Always his wisdom and discernment is the very star leading me, shining from where he is.
Learning about the history of this season isn’t new to me. What is new is learning about it from someone who doesn’t have an agenda. I was more than pleasantly surprised by how caring this was for my own heart and soul during a time that could be overtaken by the double trauma of religious trauma and acute grief.
Epiphany comes from the Greek word for manifestation or showing forth. As I write this we’re just a few days away from the holiday of Epiphany. Over the years I have found that most people unless Catholic do not celebrate or even really know about Epiphany.
What’s interesting is the Epiphany date was actually the first date the birth of Jesus was celebrated.
For several hundred years Christians did not celebrate birthdays. The influence of Origen (185-254) a prolific writer who cited the biblical stories of Job and Jeremiah who cursed the days they were born, also Pharaoh and Herod who requested murders as birthday gifts, seemed to silence any birthday celebrations at all. “The worthless man who loves things connected with birth keeps birthday festivals “ Origen wrote. Astounding is the undue influence of leadership! Other leaders no doubt read and perpetuated his work. No birthday for you!
The Eastern Roman Empire was uniquely Greek in language, theology and culture, yet stayed submissive to the government of Rome. There is fragmentary evidence that scholars use to make their best guesses as to when Epiphany, or the revelation of Jesus to humanity began to be celebrated, and what that even meant.
Should we say he was revealed to humanity at his baptism? At his first private or first public miracle? ( The turning of water into wine or feeding 5000) At his birth? ( when the world ignored rather than recognized him) When the Magi visited him? Were the Magi symbolic of humanity? There must have been a lot of talking. Eventually all these considered events were integrated into the celebration.
It is the Basilades in Egypt who are first recorded as celebrating the baptism of Jesus on their January 6th calendar. Prior to this the people of Egypt celebrated the birth of Aeon, (god of time and eternity) born of the virgin Kore with an all night vigil, music, and processions of light. Coincidentally, it was believed the water of the Nile turned from water to wine that night.
A century and a half later Jesus’s birth was integrated into the January 6 epiphany celebration in the Eastern Roman Empire. Another group of leaders met (Nicea) and decided Jesus was neither a god appearing human, nor a human turned into a god, but was god/human from birth. Which meant, it was time for a birthday celebration!
The Western Empire then adopted December 25 as a day to celebrate Jesus’s birth, thereby displacing the culturally widespread Sol Invictis celebration. Another century and a half later (in 567) a group of church leaders decided the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany should be celebrated.
Winter Solstice celebrations were to have a different focus through the centuries as Christian missionaries made their way through Europe.
However in America, Calvinists and Presbyterians of the 1600’s believed so strongly that Christmas was unchristian that they outlawed it, fining people an equivalent of several hundred dollars if found celebrating. Both public and government institutions remained working on Christmas day until the mid 1800s.
In England, Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Puritans, and Congregationalists all deemed Christmas unchristian. There is no mention of it from the late 1700s to the early 1800s in the London Times newspaper.
Christmas (English/American) came back into fashion in the era when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were illustrated holding hands with their children around the Christmas tree, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was written.
I used to have this feeling that I didn’t understand the true meaning of Christmas. That rhetoric was handed to me in many spaces. Because I didn’t have “American” Christmas traditions, I believed it. I believed stories that were reported to be legends about The 12 Days of Christmas and the origins of the candy cane. (I just learned these “legends” began in the 1970’s completely unfounded.) “The Reason for the Season” was often used to separate what was deemed as real truth from that which wasn’t, or at least wasn’t right or holy.
Learning the actual history of how and why a birthday celebration for Jesus was decided upon released the heaviness in my heart and opened space for something truer.
Humanity has always searched for and invented ways to survive the dark, lonely chill of winter, actually and metaphorically. We’ve needed to observe and connect to that which is sacred, to feel heavenly joy, to touch eternity, to celebrate life. Christmas for the common man is just this. Life for the common human is this.
Those who seek power know manipulation of these deeply spiritual and profound human desires will make them more powerful. This reality is as clear now as it is looking back over the centuries. As heartbreaking as it is to understand the working of the abuse of power, undue influence and manipulation, it is freeing to find clarity in truth.
I wish you all the truest of epiphanies!