Epiphany – coming of the wise men

Epiphany wise men

The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the arrival in Bethlehem of strangers from ‘the East’. These gentiles or Magi came ‘from afar’ to visit the little, Jewish Christ-Child. We used to celebrate the day on 6th January. But now, at least in the Catholic Church, the feast has been raised to a Sunday feast, and the date is no longer fixed.

In the olden days, when I was a child, the Christmas season lasted twelve days. People celebrated with songs and stories that everyone knew. Think, for example, of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In some cultures, Twelfth Night was a time for revelry.

In my family of origin we took down the Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night. We packed them away for the next year. I continue the tradition. By that time, hopefully, the last of the ham, Christmas cake and puddings have been eaten, the holidays over and life restored to pre-Christmas normality.

I’ve had this crib for maybe forty years and set it up every year at the beginning of Advent. St. Joseph, standing tall, is a fake. Little fingers dropped him many years ago. Each year, he loses his head and we glue it on again,

For years after the third wise man disappeared one Christmas season, we had two of them. But this year thanks to a gift from Edward, my oldest grandson, we have a new arrival. The festive little gnome in sunglasses joined his contemporaries.

As one of my guests on Christmas Day pointed out, it’s good to depict cultural diversity.

Christmas crib

Coming of the Magi at the Epiphany

The Magi are traditionally known as kings and sometimes as wise-men. They may have been astrologers, which would explain their ability to follow the star to Bethlehem. 

The Magi didn’t arrive on the first Christmas morning. Most likely, by the time they got to Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph and the Baby had moved out of the stable and settled in the town.

Depicted on Christmas cards and social media, the men do not look like travellers at the end of a gruelling journey. They’re always dressed in clean, colourful finery. Often, they sit on camels and bear precious gifts, sometimes beautifully wrapped with ribbon ties.

You may have read social media jokes that make sense about these visitors. One says that if the wise women had arrived things would have been different.

They’d have asked directions, not relied on the stars. That way, they’d have arrived on time. Instead of gifts, they’d have brought casseroles for Mary and Joseph. Wise women would have cleaned ther stable and made sure Mary was comfortable.

TS Elliot’s poem

In T.S. Elliot’s poem, ‘The Journey of the Magi’, the narrator, an old man dictates his recollections of the journey the men undertook. They left their homes, ‘the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces/ and the silken girls bringing sherbets’. Instead, they went through hostile cities and unfriendly towns and dirty villages.

In the end they resorted to travelling at night, sleeping in snatches. The narrator hints at scenes that foreshadowed the end of the life of Jesus. Although he says he would do it again, he is not sure if they had been led all that way for Birth or Death. After his experience of seeing the Child, nothing could be the same again. http://allpoetry.com/poem/8453741-The-Journey-Of-The-Magi-by-T-S–Eliot

Epiphany, eureka moment

‘Epiphany,’ ‘eureka moment’ and ‘enlightenment’ describe an apparently sudden breakthrough like that experienced by the Magi.

But such new insights only come as the result of long hard slog, after weeks, months, sometimes even years of total immersion in the mundane details of a problem.

Often, we’ve lived with a question for so long, seen the contradictions, chased down blind alleys and suffered so many failures that we’ve almost given up. 

At this point, we step back. Only then does the answer become apparent.  Breakthroughs can’t be anticipated. They often come from an unexpected direction, but always as a result of hard work.


Solutions that come suddenly at the end of an arduous process are always exciting. They can be helpful, useful, simple, beautiful, elegant, or more loving.

Scientists describe their moment of discovery as their Eureka! moment. IArtists and psychologists describe an epiphany. In spiritual or religious terms, the moment is enlightenment often accompanied by awe. You can read my blog about awe here.

Looking back, the person involved may be able to see the steps along the way that led to the eventual discovery. But one thing is sure: his or her life will never be the same again.

Maureen Helen author epiphany blog


  1. A beautiful explanation of these traditions. I’ve not heard of the 12 days tradition until this year! As a family diring my childhood, we always took our tree down around the New Year, to hetald the beginning of the next year!
    I like your photo at the end of your post!💓

  2. Thanks Maureen, always enjoy your insights and the meanings you make of them. I “took our Christmas tree down” yesterday. It was a gentle, reflective time, not only of the Christmas we have just enjoyed, but of the stories /memories behind some of our special tree ornaments. And it was also a time to think about the year ahead…no Ephinay, as such… or not yet at least. MX

    1. Lovely to hear from you here, Margaret. You seem always to make family rituals special. I’m glad you enoyed the process of putting your ornaments away. x

  3. I missed spotting your post on my WP Reader.
    Then, I almost deleted it along with my WP e-mails.
    I always take a two-week break from publishing anything at Christmastime; I pop in and out from WP when I feel like it.

    The Christmas tree and fireplace decorations in my house go up during the first weekend of December, and they stay up until the Twelfth Night. It’s been that way all my life. Victoria has space for three trees, and she tends to take down the bulk of it just after New Year before she goes back to work. I do like tradition, and it’s something we can pass down.
    Happy New Year, Maureen.

    1. Sorry to have taken so long to reply to this comment, Sue W. I’ve been away from the computer and from home for a little and unexpected holiday with one of my sons.

      I do love the old traditions and I think my family does, too. It’s always been like that for me, as well. My traditions follow those of my parents, and my maternal grandmother. A couple of my granddaughters, now married with their own children, show signs of keeping up the old, and at the same time adding their own variations. We are so blessed! I hope 2024 is full of peace and joy and adventures.

      1. Thank you for your good wishes, Maureen, and I wish the same for you.

        I don’t seem to get notifications of your replies, so I apologise for not coming back here sooner.

        1. I hope my website will begin to behave properly after the weekend. I spent hours and hours on ‘live chat’ with my hosting service, trying to sort out a number of issues that were driving me mad, and they tell me they’ve fixed up the bugs in the system. I’ve complained to them before, but I obviously needed more energy and persistence, traits or virtues (not sure which) that are in short supply at the moment.

  4. I loved this post! I celebrate “old Christmas still, too. Afterwards, I take down the tree. I exchange gifts with mt grandchildren —-all of them quite young, and tell them the story again, Happy new year! love Michele

    1. Michele, thank you for your comment. I love catching up with friends who celebrate Christmas in ways similar to me. Your Christmases would be very different from mine, because it is almost always swelteringly hot in Western Australia in December, and we have a cold Christmas lunch, but it works for us. Lovely to hear from you. Hapy new year to you and your family, also.

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