CELEBRATING THE THREE KINGS: While the ornaments may have vanished from store windows on December 26th, Christians will finish their celebration of Christmas on Sunday, January 6th with the feast of the Epiphany, the twelfth and final day of the Christmas. Many people confuse when the Twelve days of Christmas actually take place. A Lot of people think it’s the 12 days leading up to Christmas, and that it’s counting down to Christmas. As soon as the day is over, the 12 days of Christmas start, but a lot of people take down their decorations the day after.
The Twelve Days of Christmas grows out of European tradition that links the feasts of The Nativity and The Epiphany. In many traditions early on, there was not a whole lot of emphasis on Christmas as a holiday; more of the focus was on Easter and the resurrection.
During the season of Advent, the approximately month-long period prior to Christmas, Christians are encouraged to focus on readying themselves for Jesus’ birth, these preparations are not made with presents, but with Scripture readings and charitable work so that the hearts and minds of Christians will be in the spirit to celebrate the birth of Christ.
There are seasons of feasting and seasons of preparation. But in our culture, we want feasting all the time, all lights and decorations. The commercial world is going on and on about the singing of the Christmas carols, which is a little premature…unless you know what you’re celebrating and that’s what Advent does.
Mom and I do not put up all of our decorations until December 22nd. Those decorations then remain in place until after the Twelve Days of Christmas have ended.
The real religious significance is that on the twelfth day it is believed to be the day three wise men journeyed to Jesus’ birthplace and paid their respects to him by offering presents. An Epiphany Festival means “manifestation of the light.” And so, mom and I will light the candles on our tree one last time tonight.
See my post of December 26th about our traditional German candle lit tree!
“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.”
MY OLD FASHIONED GERMAN CHRISTMAS TREE: Yes – those are real candles. We celebrate with no flashing lights or loud music, our ‘church’ is the tree. The tree is decorated with ornaments dating back several generations, about ninety years. Modern ones are included of course, that way the tree is a living story of the family’s history. Tin foil wrapped chocolates and marzipan fill the tree as well. We usually get the biggest tree that will fit in the apartment (we once had a 14 foot tall tree) but now that mom is downsizing, we get a smaller tree and it is placed on a turn of the century old wooden steamer trunk that was used when my great aunt came to visit us in the New York and it is used as a table base to place the tree upon.
Depending on the size of the tree, anywhere from two to four dozen candles are placed in strategic spots in the tree. Each candle illuminates the special ornaments nearby. The candleholders are metal clip-ons in the shape of a pine cone. You can still buy the candles and holders at Schaller and Weber’s, a surviving German delicatessen just off 86th Street on Second Avenue in what was once an entire German neighborhood.
December 24 Christmas eve, the elder in the family lights the candles in the room and on the tree and puts the ‘Christmas record’ on the phonograph. The record is of German church bells and church choirs singing. When all is ready, a golden bell is rung and the rest of the family comes into the glow of the room. We stand quietly side by side, arm in am or holding hands and quietly listen to the beautiful music we have listened to for decades before. That is ‘church’ to us. As the first side of the record ends, we play the other side, sit down and just quietly gaze into the serene candlelight, watching the ornaments glisten. No lights are on in the room, just the glow of candlelight, just as it is in Germany, France, and all of Scandinavia. Let your imagination go back to the late 1800’s enjoying a room just simply lit by candlelight (which is the most complimentary to any face!).
The second side of the record ends with a jolly children’s song “Der Weihnachtsman ist da!/Santa Claus is here!”, signifying it is time to open presents by the amber glow. We grab some of the marzipan, gingerbread and chocolates that are on the dining table for all to enjoy as we open our treasures. At midnight a bottle of champagne is opened to ring in Christmas day. At one time it was my whole family enjoying this tradition, now it is just my mother and me left to carry on, and sadly on day it will just be me, but I will always do it, perhaps with a heavy heart. But this is Christmas, a German Christmas, my heritage. My great grandmother’s, grandparent’s, mother’s and my heritage. Fröhliche Weihnachten!
PEACE: May this Christmas holiday season bring one of the most sought after and elusive gifts – the gift of peace to all my Facebook and blogisphere family and friends. Whatever and however you celebrate, may you celebrate in a peaceful and joyful place with those you love. Merry Christmas ♥