When I introduced Félix Lorioux, finding his illustrations was complex. We learned, however, that he had worked for Walt Disney. Matters have changed. The Internet now features several pictures by Lorioux. This will help us read the fables of Jean de La Fontaine, a continuation of an earlier endeavour. Images often lead to reading narratives one would otherwise overlook. Moreover, they facilitate an understanding of “stories.”
Epiphany in Quebec
When I was a child, Epiphany was the twelfth day of Christmas. The next day we returned to school. On 6 January, my mother baked a gâteau des anges (angel cake). Hiding in the cake was a bean. The person who ate the piece of cake containing the bean was crowned King or Queen. The Christmas holidays ended festively. I do not know whether all Quebec families celebrated Epiphany, but my mother did. She was an excellent cook and honoured traditions.
The Winter Solstice
Christmas occurs on or near the Winter Solstice. It is a celebration of the longest night and the winter solstice always leads to a reversal. It had been a feast since antiquity. The world was new. Then came the Carnival season leading to the Spring Equinox (equal day and night).
The Three Kings of the Orient represent all human beings. No race is excluded and Kings honour a child, a little baby. So Epiphany can be incorporated into the upside-down view of the world the Winter Solstice inspires. Félix Lorioux has given Jesus teeth, which is artistic license.
In the Eastern Church, today is Christmas. (See Christmas in Ukraine, Wikipedia.2.) The season ends on 19 January. The word Epiphany also describes a sudden revelation. Moreover, the name Tiffany derives from Epiphany.
I am still unwell. I believe my illness is pericarditis, the first diagnosis. It may have been a reaction to a Covid vaccine. Vaccines may cause Pericarditis and Myocarditis, but it remains best to be vaccinated.
People suffering from pericarditis are usually prescribed colchicine. I was not. Colchicine may have been all I needed. I was prescribed corticosteroids and morphine in Magog. Pericarditis is extremely painful. So, this medication is appropriate temporarily.
A list of articles based on the Nativity was posted on 16 December 2015. It can be found at the foot of the current post. This year’s Nativity post is based on Twelfth Night & Carnival Season (8 January 2014), and the story of Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th. We are closing the “twelve days of Christmas.”
The “Twelve Days of Christmas” is a song published in England in 1780 in a book of children’s songs entitled Mirth without Mischief. The song has a longer title: “The Twelve Days of Christmas Sung at King Pepin’s Ball.” There was a King Pépin, Pépin the Short, Pépin le Bref or, literally, Pepin the Brief, the first Carolingian to be king. And the song may be French in origin:
Cecil Sharpobserved that from the constancy in English, French, and Languedoc versions of the ‘merry little partridge,’ I suspect that ‘pear-tree’ is really perdrix (Old Frenchpertriz) carried into England”; and “juniper tree” in some English versions may have been “joli perdrix,” [pretty partridge]. Sharp also suggests the adjective “French” in “three French hens”, probably simply means “foreign”. (See The Twelve Days of Christmas, Wikipedia.)
Associated with the Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas, or January 6th, is “We Three Kings.” The three kings are Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. Spellings vary.
“[A]ccording to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.” (Encyclopædia Britannica.) They brought gifts to Jesus. (See Biblical Magi, Wikipedia.)
The Julian & Gregorian calendars: Eastern & Western churches
The Western church does not celebrate Christmas on the same days as the Eastern church, the Orthodox church. In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. The difference is due to the Orthodox church’s use of the Julian (45 BCE) rather than Gregorian calendar (1582 CE) to situate Christmas. Gregory VIII‘s (7 January 1502 – 10 April 1585) calendar introduced the leap year. In Russia, festivities begin on December 31st and end on January 10th. The Orthodox church has fewer days of Christmas. (see Christmas in Russia, Wikipedia ), but Advent begins on 28 November and lasts until December 31st. (See whychristmas.com.)
In the Western church, Christmas is celebrated on or near the Winter Solstice which, this year, was December 22nd. Protestant churches celebrate Christmas on the same day as Roman Catholics. But both the Western Christmas (Catholic and Protestant) and Eastern Christmas are celebrated at the same time as a former ‘pagan’ feasts. Therefore, the seasons have remained the marker. The Christianization of Kievan Rus’ dates to the year 988 CE, when Vladimir the Great was baptized in Chersonesus and then went on to baptise members of his family and the people of Kiev (Ukraine). (See Christmas in Russia, Wikipedia.)
In Russia, a story is associated with the Kings of Orient (the Wise men), that of Babushka, who gives the kings a room to rest. They leave without her noticing. She goes to Bethlehem, but the kings have left. The origin of this story may be American. (See whychristmas.com.)
Head of Christ by Rembrandt, c. 1650 – 52 (Photo credit: WikiArt.org)
The posts listed below tell the story of our Seasons, Feasts, Festivals and feature Christian Hymnology. Our first feast is Christmas (“The Four Seasons…”), the origin of comedy, and posts related to the birth of Christ.
This post will become a page, or a category, entitled “Feasts and Hymnology.”
As you all know, early Christians transformed Pagan feasts into Christian feasts. It had to do with luminosity, the degree of brightness. Christmas is celebrated on or near the longest night of the year: the Winter solstice.
The Roman Saturnalia
It has long seemed somewhat peculiar that the night should be as long as day. In fact, it has been perceived as a kind of inversion. At that time of the year, Romans therefore celebrated Saturn, “a god of agriculture, but in classical times identified with the Greek Cronus deposed by his son Zeus.”[i] Saturn, as in Saturday, is also the name of a planet.
“During the twelve days of Christmas, traditional roles were often relaxed, masters waited on their servants, men were allowed to dress as women, and women as men. Often a Lord of Misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels. Some of these traditions were adapted from older, pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia. Some also have an echo in modern-day pantomime where traditionally authority is mocked and the principal male lead is played by a woman, while the leading older female character, or ‘Dame’ is played by a man.”[ii]
The Greek Kōmos
As for ancient Greece, during that period of the year, a Kōmos, or“ritualistic drunken procession,” was performed by revelers out of a which grew Ancient Greek Comedy. Doubts subsist as to the origin of comedy, but it appears to be the Kōmos. (See Kōmos, Wikipedia)
Four Commedia dell’arte Figures by Claude Gillot (French; 1673 – 1722) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Comedy is a reversal. The wise old man (the senex) is transformed into a senex iratus called alazôn in theatre of ancient Greece, the heavy father intent on marrying his daughter, or son, to a person he has chosen. At the end of the comedy, after a series of péripéties (twists and turns),the young couple, assisted by the eirôn, overcome the blocking character, the senex iratus or alazôn, and may marry.
Peter Paul Rubens‘ Death of Semele, caused by the theophany of Zeus [Saturn] without a mortal disguise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Epiphany and Theophany
Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January in the Western church and it commemorates the arrival in Bethlehem of the Magi (the wise men): Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar. They came from the east bearing gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase of Fable, “the Epiphany [is] the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles [non-Jewish] as represented by the Magi[.]”[iii] The word epiphany is also used to denote a moment of revelation.
As for Theophany, as its name suggests (theo = god), it is a revelation of the divine. Theophanies are an ancient phenomenon. Many occur in the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic dating back to the 18th century BCE. The word theophany is the origin of the name Tiffany.
THE CAKE OR GALETTE
Epiphany, a joyous feast, is also called la fête des Rois(FR), the feast of the Kings. In Northern France, one eats the galette des Rois. But in Southern France, the galette is a real cake or a brioche, the gâteau des Rois. In the French Canada of my youth, mothers baked a cake (un gâteau) in which a pea (une fève) had been inserted. The person whose piece of cake contained the pea was crowned King or Queen. The galette des Rois is made of flaky paste (pâte feuilletée) filled withalmond paste (frangipane), candied fruit, creams and chocolate. (See gâteau des Rois and galette des Rois, Wikipedia.)
During the Roman Saturnalia, the slave who ate the piece of galette or cake containing the pea (black or white) became the master for one day. However, merriment went further than this one reversal. Everything was upside-down: a mundus inversus.
Now, if Epiphany and Theophany, the twelfth day of Christmas, date back to the beginning of the written word, Mesopotamia (Sumer), the raucous events of the Roman Saturnalia and the Greek kōmoshave survived and also characterize the carnival season, which, as noted above, begins on 7 January, the day after Epiphany (Western Church) or Theophany (Eastern Church).
Therefore, we have seen once again that the seasons, or the degree of luminosity (brightness), have long dictated the timing of feasts, be they Pagan (Roman, Greek and earlier) or Christian. Christmastide is the season during which, for one day, night (darkness) is longer than the day or (brightness), a world upside-down. It is the day of the longest night. In 2013, the Winter solstice occurred on 21 December. In 2015, it occurs on 22 December.
Furthermore, the Christian tradition has preserved elements of the Roman Saturnalia, honouring Saturn. It has a considerably Pagan side. Twelfth Night is a moment of unabashed revelry rooted in the Roman Saturnalia and the Greek Kōmos, the probable birthplace of comedy, the wise old man becomes a fool, the senex iratus.
We have also seen the importance of the stars and planets. The Kings of Orient are guided by a star and the Roman Saturnalia is a celebration of Saturn (as in Saturday), the above-mentioned god of agriculture and a planet.
In short, the humble calendar remains one of our most precious artifacts.
We have now entered Carnival Season, a season we have not forgotten.