As our pastor, Rev. Michael Boccaccio, points out every year, “Christmas is not a day, it’s a season.” The Christmas season traditionally starts on Christmas Day and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany (or Little Christmas in some parts of the world), which falls on January 6, the day the Wise Men showed up at the stable in Bethlehem.
A song was even written to commemorate “The 12 Days of Christmas.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out if you’re not supposed to count Christmas Day as one of the 12 days, or the Epiphany. If you count them both, then you have the 13 days of Christmas, which is just wrong.
Father Boccaccio told us that the Christmas season has been extended in the Catholic Church and it now officially draws to a close on the day that Jesus was baptized. That date varies from year to year, and can extend to January 15 or so. He insists that no Christmas trees or decorations can be taken down until that day. He threatens to make surprise visits to our homes to check that our decorations are still up after January 1, but we all know that he won’t visit, just like he knows that our trees will be long gone before the middle of January.
Now, let’s return to the Epiphany and those Wise Men. I’ve always had a problem with that story. Mary and Joseph were on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for Emperor Augustus’ mandatory census when Jesus was born. Penalties for disobeying the emperor were undoubtedly stiff back then, so I imagine Joseph bundled Mary and Jesus up shortly after Jesus’ birth and hustled them out of the stable and off to the census bureau.
I don’t see them staying in a stable for 12 days. And even if the landlord did let them linger awhile, it probably took those Wise Men from the general area known as “the East” longer than 12 days to get there. They were following a star, and stars are only visible at night, so they would have had to take the days off to wait for nightfall … and to shop for gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Depending on how far east they were, it could have taken them months, or years. But, if they were only a few miles east, they could have made it in time, star notwithstanding. However, nobody knows where they started from. I’ve heard stories that they showed up at Mary and Joseph’s house when Jesus was a toddler. Then again, the accepted story is that they were definitely at the stable at the same time that Jesus and His parents were.
This reminds me of David Sedaris’ story about the six to eight black men who accompany Santa on his rounds in Europe. He wondered why no one had gotten an accurate count over several centuries.* I personally wonder why the whole Wise Men story is so vague, when the other details of Jesus’ birth were documented so clearly. A visiting priest to our parish complicated the story further by saying that there was no mention of three Wise Men in the Bible; only three gifts were noted. That means that any number of Wise Men could have been there bearing three gifts. Or maybe only the three best gifts were mentioned and the Diaper Genie and bottle sterilizer were left out.
Here’s another question: Did the Wise Men reach the stable during the 12 days of Christmas? And why is the revised end of the Christmas season on the day of Jesus’ baptism — which occurred 30 years or so after His birth? The wise men had to have arrived by then, so I suppose that’s a safe date to use.
Using that logic, however, we should never be allowed to take down our trees.