A night drive around these parts reveals that some homes still have their Christmas lights up. This may be for two reasons: a) laziness and b) oooh pretty!
There is a third reason: Christmas isn’t officially over.
Most people appreciate that Christmas doesn’t end on December 25 (Christmas Day) or December 26 (Boxing Day) or even December 27 (Pitch the Tree Day). They might even say that Christmas ends on Epiphany, January 6, which marks the arrival of the Magi at the Nativity.
But that’s not the case.
An aside: Besides its religious meaning, the word “epiphany” also means “moment of clarity,” that “aha!” moment, stemming from the fact that when Jesus was born, people didn’t realize he was kind of a big deal until he was endorsed by the Magi, who were like the Oprah of their day.
In modern times, nativity scenes tend to include the Magi among the Christmas Day gathering, along with the angels, shepherds and unsanctioned donkeys. But those three kings, they travelled afar. How afar? Afar enough that it took them 12 days to get to Bethlehem. Today, they would have caught the Orient Air red-eye or, worst case, just Skyped and sent some gift cards from Myrrh ’N Stuff. But in biblical times those three kings had to bear their gifts by camel, which was slow, smelly and unpleasant, like a Greyhound bus to Hamilton.
Technically, then, we should be adding kings to our nativity scenes only on January 6. But no one bothers doing that because: a) laziness and b) oooh pretty!
But back to the last day of Christmas: For most Christmas sticklers, the season ends when the Magi arrive. But really Christmas doesn’t officially end until January 27. That’s when the Magi finally leave.
This is Estuphany, the festival of the overstayed guest.
While not mentioned in the Holy Bible, reference to the lingering kings can be found in the Apocrypha Gospel of St. Shecky. “Lolleth they amongst the beasts of the manger and lifteth not a finger to help, even as the Christ child is colicky unto the wee hours and the virgin Mother hath not slept a wink. Lo, though they hath bringeth gold, they hath consumed that twofold in kabobs and mead and pay-per-view. Dost not the place reek of frankincense? Be they not a bad influence on Joseph?”
Later, St. Shecky recounts the following conversation:
“And Mary spake unto the third guest, ‘As kings thou art, dost thou not have places to goeth, people to seeth?’ whereupon he gazeth at her over a bucket of Canaan Fried Mutton and sayeth, ‘Kings? We be not kings but wise men – wise to a sweet deal when we hath seen it.’”
Three weeks after their arrival, the Magi wake up on the 33rd day of Christmas to discover that Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus have packed up in the night and disappeared, sticking the wise men with the manger bill.
Today, the Festival of Estuphany is rarely celebrated in Western culture. Many homes do commemorate the spirit of Estuphany but much closer to Christmas Day, usually around the time one’s brother-in-law has inexplicably managed to use up every single roll of toilet paper in the house.
There have been Estuphany carols written over the years:
- “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and Never Left”
- “Do You See What I See? (The Sink Full of Dishes)”
- “Get Lost, Ye Merry Gentlemen”
But these are mostly (and justifiably) forgotten.
Certain Estuphany traditions, however, do linger. For example, January 27 tends to be the day when we finally polish off the last of the goodies that were given as house gifts and stocking stuffers. We breathe a sigh and “good riddance,” just as one would to a bearded dude who keeps company with camels and hasn’t changed his cassock in weeks. All we are left with is a sense of relief, chocolate stains and that bowl of nuts that never, ever gets eaten, not even by freeloading guests.