February 09, 2017

#05-003: Of Wise Men and Fools

oil painting in graphic style of a baby held by his mother with father looking on; three men in robes stand to the right bearing gifts, and an angel looks on
The Adoration of the Magi

Note: Two holidays in January celebrate opposite ideas--wisdom and foolishness--in different ways.

Get Ready: Do you celebrate the feast of the Epiphany in any way? If so, how?

Many of the holidays in early January center around (western) New Year's celebrations. But one, of some significance, is actually a follow-up to Christmas. I'm speaking of the Feast of the Epiphany, held on January 6.

You may know the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" ("...and a partridge in a pear tree!") But you may not realize that properly speaking, in the Western church (the Roman Catholic Church and its descendants), Christmas Day is only the first day of Christmas, and January 5 is the 12th (count and see!) In some churches, then, Epiphany, is the first day of the next season of the Church year, which continues until Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.

Why did I mention specifically the "Western church"? Because in some Eastern Orthodox Church traditions, the birth of Jesus was celebrated on the Epiphany (not that he was born that day, but that his birth was made known to the world), making it an alternative to the December 25 date of Christmas Day.

So what happened at the Epiphany? The word itself means "a manifestation," and celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men or Magi (sometimes erroneously called the "Three Kings") to visit the new-born baby. This would be the first time he was seen by anyone other than his family and the local people, and presaged the spread of his message to the rest of the world.


Another January celebration--and this one is related to January 1--is the Feast of Fools. On this day, especially in northern France, the medieval Church held a sort of inversion of values, making "the first become last and the last become first." That is, lower members of the community were given exalted positions, and the higher-ups took on lowly roles.

If you have seen the Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you may recall that Quasimodo is made the King of Fools (actually, in the novel, the Pope of Fools) on "Topsy Turvy Day," which the film places on January 6 ("Scurvy knaves are extra scurvy / On the 6th of Januervy"). This is somewhat ahistorical, as the actual date of the observance varied.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. ahistorical
  2. descendants
  3. exalted
  4. follow-up
  5. higher-ups
  6. inversion
  7. Lent
  8. manifestation
  9. partridge
  10. presaged

  1. showing forth of something
  2. turning upside down of something
  3. those in higher positions
  4. raised; elevated
  5. things that came from an earlier version
  6. continuation of something
  7. a season of the Church year leading to Easter
  8. a type of wild bird
  9. not according to tradition
  10. foretold; predicted

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 9, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. e; 3. d; 4. f; 5. c; 6. b; 7. g; 8. a; 9. h; 10. j