The other day I put Christmas away. I took the tree down and put it outside to be recycled into mulch. I boxed up the ornaments we have inside, especially the crèche. Outside I took the wreath off the front door, removed the red bows arrayed on bushes and railings and the Christmas light from bushes. Tuesday was Epiphany, or 12th night, the 12th day of Christmas and the formal end of the Christmas season. As most people today who celebrate Christmas are not actually Christians they don't realize that Christmas Day is the 1st day of Christmas and that 12th night celebrates the arrival of the 3 Magi to venerate the Christ child. The name epiphany is curious. Its Greek roots mean 'reveal', but the word can mean in a secular sense a moment of sudden revelation, usually important and in the Christian sense when Christ was revealed as God for the first time.
As I walk the streets at night with my dog, I notice that many houses still have their Christmas lights up. Mostly trees are gone from living rooms - often removed within a day or two of Christmas day. The lights and the trees for many are set up early in December and gone by the 26th. This all reminds me that Christmas has become something both similar and different to the holiday celebrated by practicing, believing Christians themselves. The spirit of this season seems to be the same for both non believers as for believers - a time of feasting and celebration and gift giving - of joy, in short. But it has little to do with thinking about the birth of Christ for many, perhaps most in our society. This does not bother me much but is a curious fact that is a mirror image of the origins of this holiday. This date was chosen for a celebration of Christ's birth in order to piggy back on the pagan winter solstice or Saturnalia. These sorts of deliberate syncretism made Christianity more popular as ordinary people did not have to abandon favourite celebrations entirely. The irony is that secular people in the West have now incorporated the Christian holiday of Christmas into a secular celebration in order that they not have to abandon the favourite parts of this holiday. This all means of course that Epiphany has been lost in the neb-secular feast of Christmas that runs from sometime in December to January 1.