Yesterday (1/13) we wrapped up the octave of Epiphany. Christmas continued here, with lights and all. For most of the world, even the Catholic world, it probably passed by without much notice. Even for Epiphany itself, at lease here in America, most customs associated with it have been condensed into Christmas day. There are some places that continue to do Christmas activities until the new year. But after the 1st? Forget it. Christmastide is well passed at that point. It’s back to the grind! Well, for Catholics the whole 12 days of Christmas, and Epiphany too should be time to celebrate. For too long Catholics have gone along with the secular way of celebrating Christmas. Even Dom Gueranger mentions this back in his day. After describing the 12th night custom of a “King’s Feast” celebration:
King’s Feast is still a Christmas joy in thousands of families; and happy those where it is kept in the Christian spirit which first originated it! For the last three hundred years, a puritanical zeal has decried these simple customs, wherein the seriousness of religion and the home enjoyments of certain Festivals were blended together. The traditions of Christian family rejoicings have been blamed under pretexts of abuse; as though a recreation, in which religion had no share and no influence, were less open to intemperance and sin. Others have pretended, (though with little or no foundation,) that the Twelfth Cake and the custom of choosing a King, are mere imitations of the ancient pagan Saturnalia. Granting this to be correct, (which it is not,) we would answer, that many of the old pagan customs have undergone a Christian transformation, and no one thinks of refusing to accept them thus purified. All this mistaken zeal has produced the sad effect of divorcing the Church from family life and customs, of excluding every religious manifestation from our traditions, and of bringing about what is so pompously called, (though the word is expressive enough,) the secularization of society. (Volume III – Epiphany)
I think this is a part of why it was so easy to make all those changes after Vatican II. To a large extent, home life was already divorced from liturgical life. The traditional celebrations became mere customs without the faith to back them up. And holy days, were just another day to go to Church. But without that tie in between our celebrations at home and why we are celebrating it, it is much harder too pass on the faith behind these festivities to our children. And frankly many kids won’t appreciate their faith as much if they don’t see that it is the grounding for these memorable family times.
If you separate the liturgical feasts from the home feasts, then the celebrations loose their mooring. When the liturgy isn’t at the root, you get an inverted Christmas season, and loose Advent altogether. You get materialism and “holiday stress.” Slowly but surely, the celebrations revert to paganism (although there is decent wassail recipe there).
Well, we have to stop going along to get along. We cannot accept the “Commercial” holiday. When it’s Advent lets observe Advent. When it’s Epiphany let’s observe Epiphany, continuing our Christmas celebration well into the new year. Things are too crazy in our world today to just Keep going along. The ancient Christians managed to live in pagan Rome , we Can live in the pagan modern world . But we can’t be afraid to do things the Catholic way.
I have said before that I think those who are able, should make it a priority to take off work and school for major feast days. And lets try to keep the right customs at the right times. A good resource for feast day foods is Evelyn Birge Vitz’s A Continual Feast. It’s organized according to the liturgical year, starting with Advent of course, and has traditional foods from many different Catholic countries. To Help spruce up our octave of Epiphany, we made some old fashioned egg nog.
I also believe this is the right way to restore our liturgical traditions as well. Don’t wait for Rome to reinstitute octaves, and ember days. When enough people observer them informally, they will be restored formally.