Most people don’t know this, but technically, in the Episcopal Church Calendar (and, I’m pretty sure, other liturgical calendars),  Christmas Day is not as major a festival as the Day of Epiphany — which many people have probably never heard of.  I might never have heard of it, if it weren’t for my father, who grew up in the Philippines.  At least, not before I became a priest.

I don’t know if it was his father, who was born in Germany, or his mother, who was born in the Philippines.  But his family celebrated the Day of Epiphany.  The remnant that came to us was that we put out a pair of shoes on Twelfth Night, the twelfth and last day of the Christmas season, and the Three Kings put candy in our shoes overnight, just like they brought gifts on the Day of Epiphany to the baby Jesus.  It didn’t rate nearly as high as Christmas Day on my calendar of events as a kid.  But it made the calendar.  It was always neat to get a pile of candy!

My understanding is that, until recently, when it was overwhelmed by the U.S. celebration of Christmas, the Day of Epiphany was actually the day most Christians around the world gave gifts in honor of the Christ child.  Or folks gave gifts for all twelve days of Christmas (kind of like Hanukkah for the Jews — I was jealous of Scott Bayrack growing up, because for a couple of years he got presents every day for a long time that seemed nicer than mine).  But this didn’t work well for our family the year we tried it — even though we did well on “after” Christmas sales.  Our kids felt way out of step with their friends (and the extra waiting drove them crazy).

Actually, I’ve finally started to prioritize Christmas over Epiphany in my own mind.  The Epiphany may be the older celebration.  And it may highlight the incarnation as it shows us the person of Jesus in his ministry (which is arguably more important than the birth itself).  But the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day, the coming of God into our world as one of us, frankly resonates more deeply in my faith.