Epiphanytide starts on January 6th or the nearest Sunday and it commemorates the coming of The Magi, the Three Kings, the Wisemen, etc. who are known as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. This season runs all the way to Pre-Lent which prepares us for Lent proper. It is a continuation of Christmas as a Season of Light, but also a season of manifesting that light not just to Israel, but to the world. Many of the Gospels this season will show Jesus establishing sacraments, proper liturgy, and show us the Christian Hope is for transformation of soul and transfiguration of flesh that we might truly live into our vocation to be "new creatures" in Christ!
This is the season for House Blessings. Because the Magi prepared their bodies and hearts by coming to the Christ child, casting down their crowns, and prostrating before him, so too we ought too in our homes and hearts. Frequently the occurrence of a scene in a house in Scriptures can also be read allegorically to signify the body, and the inner characters as the soul. To beauty the outside is thus to prepare the inside. For example, we prepare our minds to receive The Truth of the Gospel by reciting the words of The Mass & The Prayers. Whereas thoughts frequently come after thoughts, it is the opposite for Catholics when it comes to Revelation. We say the Creed, the Our Father, The Hail Mary, the Ten Commandments, then reflecting upon it we hope to understand, believe, and love what they signify. So too we prepare our homes not because we're particularly pious or holy, because we want to be.
A house blessing normally consists of blessing the chalk used to mark the door frame with the year split by the first letters of the Three Magi names. (If they have holy water they can sprinkle it on the chalk as well.) So this year the upper arch of a doorframe should read "20 + C + M + B + 19" to show 2019, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. If you are in the image of Christ, then your home too should be a home for strangers to the faith who wish to join it. This really is a call to evangelization via the ancient but real mode of Catholic hospitality. Southern hospitality's only hope of resurrection is through a resurrection by this Christian practice, and indeed if it ever had a point it was to be a natural shadow of this supernatural practice. I for one can say my experience of eating with my family as a boy prepared me to understanding The Last Supper, the Passover, The Mass, and more broadly a feast culture. It opened my mind to the inner logic of the sacraments.
A series of prayers is done around the house, some better ones even include teleological prayers about what Christian rooms are for. For example, what is the bedroom for, the study, the kitchen, etc.? These blessings set apart not just the whole home, but each room that we come to see our daily practices as formative in our faith. The priest should then incense the whole house as part of the blessing.
So talk with a priest or deacon about getting your house blessed this Epiphanytide! St. Aelred will be trying to do one each weekend for members and friends during Epiphanytide.
The King's Cake is baked with a Christ child in the cake. Whoever finds it bakes the next cake and hosts the next party. Actually cooking a cake is a mark of hospitality, and I can say the store bought ones are pretty terrible. I had a piece today home cooked that blows the store stuff out of this world. Charity is practiced, so spend that extra couple hours baking for those you wish to show goodwill.
This is also an easy practice to begin showing hospitality. Begin with friends, invite acquaintances, allow them to bring friends who are strangers to you. In this case you can love that person for your friend's sake. You can trust them for your friend's sake. This allows friendship to open up your social circle to strangers. This also allows the possibility of you getting to know them through successive King's Cake gatherings or festivities to make a new friend.
You might be thinking, "How do we do do a King's Cake swap if they're only for Fat Tuesday?" They're not! That's the only day a lot of people do it anymore, but think about it, "King's Cake." The name still has a reference to The Three Kings. Originally the first King's Cake was on January 6th, Epiphany Sunday, and the last was on Shrove Tuesday aka Mardi Gras aka Fat Tuesday. Y'all this is a season of cake. What more could you ask for?
If you now some Catholics who have recipes ask for them! This is a great an easy way to spread Catholic Culture!
Balls, Dances, Parades, & Festivities
You probably know these from Mardi Gras. This is actually a fragment of what was once a comprehensive season. The balls and krewes of Mardi Gras in New Orleans are remnant Catholic practices. You probably also have heard of Carnival in Brazil or other countries. There is a complex history here. Mardi Gras simply means "Fat Tuesday" in French. It is the last day of Epiphanytide before Lent starts. This year Epiphanytide ends on February 16. The 17th starts off Pre-Lent with Septuagesima. Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) is on March 5th.
The first New Orleans Mardi Gras was in 1699, 1702 in Mobile Alabama, 1874 in Pensacola, Florida, and in Tampa, Florida in 1904. In the 2000's several other cities with Catholic histories (but secular intents) began celebrating the festivities. This is mostly due to French Catholic influence entering the states. Mixed with the Africa America peoples of Louisiana it bred unique Cajun and Creole variations and customs around the day. This is how new Catholic Culture gets formed. How will we be a part of that in Georgia is our question. How you do it in your plot of land is yours.
There have been faithful and fun practices of Carnival and Balls that include beer and meats and dancing and gift-giving and merriment for all. There have also been versions that fall into lust, fornication, gluttony, and drunken debauchery. The Church has always tried to shut down the latter because vice never makes us happy. The former has been urged by The Church's faithful as a kind of folk development of the season. Done properly there are processions, good fun, tons of friends, great drinks, and you can even revive a rowdy rendition of many Epiphany songs that have been long in the sands of time. The Church has always exhorted this because every feast should come with the great gifts of beer, meat, sweets, and the joy of friends and games. As G.K. Chesterton once said considered The Cardinal Virtue of Temperance:
Let a man walk ten miles on a hot summer day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.
We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.
So much for the "Temperance" Movement. It wasn't temperate at all, simply viceful. A feast without drink is no feast at all, and I refuse to believe God did want Man to rejoice on the day He revealed Himself to Man. What a travesty that would be. Should not man raise a glass every Epiphany and give thanks? Were we not nearly all pagans and gentiles that only by the grace of God in Baptism have been welcomed into Abraham's Covenant? If the answer is yes, then feast proper!
Back to festivities - music! You are probably most familiar with We Three Kings of Orient Are which was written by an Episcopal deacon. But what about Why, Impious Herod or As with Gladness Men of Old or Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning or O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness? There is a treasury of hymns to be rediscovered from the depths of the Anglican Patrimony! There has been plenty of sociology on the nature of individualism even penetrating into American dance. We don't have many group or folk or circle dances anymore except for "The Cupid Shuffle," what a shame. Did not David dance before The Ark?
We as Catholics do not have to be Puritanical about drinking and dancing. It is a rich part of our culture. But we also don't have to be flippant and worldly about it since we always strive for the virtuous, golden mean. We always do well to remember that dancing is an image of heaven. And it is an image of heaven because it's an image of The Holy Trinity. The Church Fathers described the indwelling of the Three Divine Persons as perichoresis or a 'dance' between the three. This is a social dance image in which three hold hands in a circle dancing as one unit. So too we see in Dante's Paradiso in several levels of The Heavens (Mercury, Venus, and The Sun) in which the saints are said to dance. And from afar their lights look like so many stars dancing in constellations. This is an image of joyous order. Thus Epiphanytide Balls that were once common in parts of Virginia or Louisiana really are a real part of Catholic Culture that could do to be revived. Godspeed in your efforts, and remember, God made the world not to be used up, but enjoyed!
Painting: The Adoration of the Magi by Edward Burne-Jones. Edward grew up in England as an Evangelical Anglican. He turned to Anglo-Catholicism in his teens. He went to Oxford hoping the Oxford Movement was alive and well, only to find the Evangelicals had taken over Anglicanism yet again and the Catholic elements gone. He nearly converted to Catholicism and was perpetually haunted by it. He tried to start a brotherhood in response to his emptiness and instead spent a life devoted to a Catholic aesthetic of art with his friend Morris. Together they were major figures in the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.