Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, which is the traditional end of Christmastide. It is the day on which Christians celebrate the coming of the Wise Men to worship the baby Jesus. In the quote below, Chesterton describes a practice our family has adopted to help place the story of our Lord’s nativity into a context greater than simply a stand alone day (December 25) where gifts are given. In our home, most of our gifts are given to one another on December 25. However, the children are given one present a day through the rest of Christmastide culminating on our celebration of Epiphany. For more ideas on celebrating Epiphany, see Anna’s chapter in the book Let Us Keep the Feast.
“THERE is one custom in Spain, and probably in other southern countries, which might be a model of the popular instinct for poetry in action. It is what corresponds to our idea of Santa Claus, who is, of course, St Nicolas, and in the North the patron of children and the giver of gifts at Christmas. In the South this function is performed by the Three Kings, and the gifts are given at the Epiphany. It is in a sense more logical, which, perhaps, is why it is common among the Latins. The Wise Men are in any case bringing gifts to the Holy Child, and they bring them at the same time to the human children. But there is in connexion with it an excellent example of how people who retain this popular instinct can actually act a poem.
“The mysterious Kings arrive at the end of the holiday, which again is really very reasonable. It is much better that the games and dances and dramas, which are fugitive, should come first and the children be left with the presents, or permanent possessions, at the end. But it is also the occasion of a process very mystical and moving to the imagination. The Kings are conceived as coming nearer and nearer every day; and, if there are images of these sacred figures, they are moved from place to place every night. That alone is strangely thrilling, either considered as a child’s game or as a mystic’s meditation on the mysteries of time and space. On the last night of all, when the strange travellers through time are supposed to arrive, the children carefully put out water and green stuff for the camels and the horses of that superhuman cavalcade out of the depths of the East. Even the touch of putting water, so necessary to purely Eastern animals, is enough to suggest that reach of the imagination to the ends of the earth.”
~G.K. Chesterton: ‘Poetry in Action.’ (1926)