The Seasons of Christmastide and Epiphany
Christmastide is a holy and joyful season of celebrating the profound delight of the birth of our Lord and King, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. The season lasts from the evening of December 24th to January 5th (the 12 days of Christmas!) and culminates on January 6 with the Feast of Epiphany, on which we remember the Magi coming to worship the Christ Child. After the somber waiting through Advent, we welcome Christmastide as a time to feast, rejoice and celebrate Immanuel, “God with us.”
Questions to Ponder
- Why is Jesus’ coming a “Joy to the World”? How do you experience this joy?
- What surprised you in the Christmas story this year?
- Reflect on the season of Advent: What did you notice in the time of waiting?
- How do you need to know “God with us” in the coming year?
Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas
Give one simple gift each of the 12 days of Christmastide.
Swap your Advent candles for the white Christ candle. Light the white candle every evening through Epiphany (January 6). You may want to add daily readings and prayer.
Sing a portion of The Twelve Days of Christmas each day and add a matching ornament to your Christmas tree. This song may have had secular origins, but Christians have used the lyrics to explain basic tenets of the faith to young children since the 16th century. Here's an article on the symbolism/meaning of the gifts (scroll down in the article).
Celebrate the Feast of Epiphany
Follow the links below to some suggested activities to celebrate Epiphany.
Creative & Contemplative Engagements for Christmastide
Reflect on Jesus being the light of the world by illuminating your front yard with bright candles of hope. On Christmas Eve, line the path to your front door with small paper bags with battery powered tea light candles inside. Plastic cartons or aluminum cans with designs punched into the sides are alternative design ideas. Imagine these lights "welcoming Mary & Joseph as they search for a place to stay for the night" just like we welcome Jesus into our home and lives. Read John 8:12 as you light each candle and reflect on Jesus’ light that dissipates all darkness.
Supplies: battery powered candles, paper bags & decorations, scissors, aluminum cans and hammer/nails, or plastic milk cartons.
Time Required: 1-2 hours
Birthday Cake for Jesus
On Christmas Day, remember the incarnation of Christ with a special cake for Christmas! This is a helpful visual aid for young kids who associate cake with their own birthday celebrations. Bake the cake together and encourage your children to help with the decoration process. All may blow out the birthday candles together after you sing “Happy Birthday, Jesus” and possibly discuss how Jesus brings true light into the world.
Supplies: cake, decorations, candles.
Time Required: 1-2 hours
Do you like to write, draw, paint, make music or dance?
Over the course of Christmastide, however often you wish (weekly? daily? just one time?) choose a word that encompasses Christ's Arrival:
and write a poem, make a piece of artwork, choreograph a movement or write a music score to go along with the word. If you feel courageous share your work with your small group or a friend.
Retell the Christmas story with creative embodiment! Consider using this activity as a teaching moment/tradition for active learners who remember best through movement.
Use household items to create costumes for each character (sticks/canes for shepherd crooks, bathrobes for tunics, and t-shirts for turbans, etc.). Designate one person to be the narrator who reads Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 2:1-12 and invite each character to act out how he/she would convey the story.
Afterwards, you may wish to spark conversation by asking each character some reflection questions. For instance, ask “Mary, What part of the story did you ponder in your heart?” (Luke 2:19) or ask the “Shepherds, why did you decide to search for the baby? What did you expect to find?”
Supplies: characters, costumes, Bible, Nativity play, if desired
Time Required: 1-3 hours
Creative & Contemplative Engagements for Epiphany
Traveling Wise Men
We know little about the Wise Men except that they came from the East and were most likely astrologers and learned men. Some early Christian paintings assume there were as many as 12 of them venerating Jesus, but Catholic tradition settled on 3 to match the number of gifts they presented Jesus. The new star at the time of Jesus’ birth indicated a sign of a new king being born. The Bible doesn’t indicate when they found Jesus in Bethlehem, but Christians typically celebrate their arrival on January 6th.
Set up: On Christmas Eve, after placing Jesus in the nativity set. Place the wise men figures a few yards away, east of the creche.
Practice: Each night, move the wise men closer to the nativity to symbolize their journey to find Jesus. With young kids, you could make the movement into a “hide n’ seek” game in which you strategically move the wise men while they are sleeping and challenge the kids to find them each morning of the Christmas season.
The Magi should arrive at the nativity on January 6, Epiphany, at which point you might celebrate with a King Cake, a house blessing (directions below), and reading of TS Eliot's poem Journey of the Magi.
Supplies: nativity set with Magi
Time Required: 15 min per day of Christmastide
On Epiphany (Jan 6), celebrate Jesus is the king with a special cake dessert in the shape of a crown. Little ones might enjoy making crowns out of paper, sparkle stickers, glitter, etc.
Set up: Bake a cake and hide a little surprise inside (i.e. stainless-steel jewelry ring, dried bean, plastic baby Jesus). King cakes are served all over the world, so you have many options. In Spanish-speaking countries, rosca de reyes is a sweet bread shaped in an oval ring with dried fruits on top. In France, galette des rois is a round cake with puff pastry and fruit filling topped with a cardboard crown. In Switzerland, the cake is often pull-apart sweet rolls while in Scotland it’s fruitcake and in England it is a star-shaped jam tart. In New Orleans, king cake is typically a brioche in a ring with green, purple and gold sprinkles (typically Mardi Gras colors because these king cakes are often served from Christmas until Fat Tuesday).
Practice: Eat the cake on January 6th together as a family. After possibly exchanging small gifts, cut the king cake in equal pieces. While everyone closes their eyes, a parent holds up a piece of cake and the youngest determines who will receive that particular piece. Whoever finds the surprise in their slice is crowned the King/Queen of Epiphany with a homemade paper crown. He/she gets to decide what the family will eat for the day, can assign their chores to others, etc. Each family can determine what royal privileges are won.
Option: Hide three surprises in the cake so that three people have an opportunity to be “wise men” for the day. While they still have shared special authority for the day, these wise men also must create 3 special gifts to offer the rest of the family at the close of the day (i.e. something yellow [gold], fragrant [frankincense] or healthy [myrrh]).
Supplies: cake mix, surprise(s) to hide inside it, decorations for making a crown
Time Required: 1 hour plus baking time
A house blessing is an invitation for Jesus to be welcome in your home. Traditionally, priests come to bless parishioners’ homes during the season of Epiphany. Some chalk their doors with C + M + B to indicate the traditional names of the three magi (Casper, Melchoir and Balthasar) and also the first letters of the Latin Christus mansionem benedicat meaning “may Christ bless this house.” The + sign indicates the sign of the cross.
- Begin with the prayer below.
- Chalk 20 C+M+B 22 (current year) over a main doorway.
- Prayerfully walk through your home dedicating each room to Christ and His presence, chalking small crosses in each area.
Here's a common house blessing prayer to use:
The three Wise Men, Casper, Melchoir and Balthasar, followed the star of God’s Son, who became man 20__ (name year) years ago. May Christ bless our home and remain with us throughout the new year. Visit, O Blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence. Bless all who live or visit here with the gift of your love; and grant that we may manifest your love to each other and to all whose lives we touch. May we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort and strengthen us in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and forever, Amen.
Supplies: chalk, house blessing liturgy
Time Required: 30 minutes
"The liturgical year
is the year that sets out
to attune the life of the Christian
to the life of Jesus, the Christ.
It proposes, year after year,
to immerse us over and over again
into the sense and substance
of the Christian life until,
eventually we become what we say we are
– followers of Jesus
all the way to the heart of God."
- Joan Chittister