As far as the true Christmas season goes, popular culture is not in sync with the church calendar. The season officially begins not on Black Friday, but on December 24th, and ends not after the presents are unwrapped, but twelve days later when we celebrate the appearance of the three kings on The Feast of the Epiphany. This means that most people are taking down their decorations and going back to work smack dab in the middle of Christmas. Over the years we’ve tried to keep the tree up until the sixth of January and to create something of a celebration around the day in a nod to our pre-retail traditions, but this year it just wasn’t going to happen. The tree was so dry that if someone sneezed a shower of needles would descend, so we took it out right after New Year’s –and have been sweeping ever since. This brings to mind an old Epiphany story that I love, an Italian folktale about a woman named Old Befana.
Old Befana lived by herself in a small cottage in a village. She worked all the time to keep her little place as neat and clean as could be. Everyone knew that she was the best housekeeper around and she took great pride in that. One day as she was out sweeping her front walk, a most unusual party of visitors arrived. There were three men, dressed in colorful robes, elaborate head coverings and exquisite jewelry. They didn’t speak like anyone she had ever met before, but one of them explained to her that they had been on a long journey. They were following a bright star which they believed was leading them to the Christ Child, newly born in a manger, and they asked her if she would like to accompany them. Old Befana laughed and said no, she couldn’t possibly go with them. There was too much to be done keeping her home neat and clean. And so the three strangers went on their way as Old Befana continued her sweeping. She swept and swept most of the day, and as she was sweeping, she was thinking about the travelers and the Christ Child they were going to see. She began to feel sorry that she hadn’t stopped what she was doing and joined them. After a while she decided that yes, she would like to go with them after all. With her broom in her hand she started out, only to find that she had just missed them everywhere she went. So she kept walking and walking, looking for the Christ Child, stopping in every house in every village in case that was where he was.The legend goes that Old Befana never catches up with the three Wise Men, and never gets to the manger, but on the eve of Ephiphany she can be seen sweeping across the sky on her broom as she visits all children everywhere, always leaving treats and goodies for them because Christ is found in the heart of every child.
The word epiphany means an appearance, or sudden insight. A time to sweep–and a time to seek. Wishing a blessed Epiphany season to all of you!