In the olden days, when I was a girl, the Christmas season lasted twelve days. The season was celebrated in song and stories that everyone knew – think, for example, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In some cultures, Twelfth Night was a time for revelry. But, traditionally, in my family, the twelfth night was the time to take down the Christmas decorations and pack them away until the next year. By then, too, hopefully, the last of the ham, Christmas cake and puddings had been eaten, the holidays were over and life was restored to pre-Christmas normality.
In those days, on the sixth of January, the day after twelfth night, Christians commemorated the arrival in Bethlehem of strangers from ‘the East’, gentiles who had come to visit the little, Jewish Christ-Child. This was known as the Feast of the Epiphany. Now, at least in the Catholic Church, the feast day has been raised to a Sunday feast, so that the date is no longer fixed.
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. Depicted on Christmas cards (remember when everyone sent and received them in the days before email?) the men do not look like travellers at the end of a gruelling journey. They’re always dressed in clean, colourful finery, sitting on camels and bearing precious gifts, often beautifully wrapped with ribbon ties. The Magi probably didn’t arrive on the first Christmas morning, and it is likely that by the time they got to Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph and the Baby had moved out of the stable and settled in the town.
In T.S. Elliot’s poem, ‘The Journey of the Magi’, the narrator is an old man dictating his recollections of the journey the men undertook. Leaving their homes, ‘the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces/ and the silken girls bringing sherbets’, 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 and enlightenment are a few of the words used to describe an apparently sudden breakthrough. In reality, such new insights can 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 the 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 becomes apparent. Breakthroughs cannot be anticipated and often come from an unexpected direction but always as a result of hard work.
The solution that comes suddenly at the end of such an arduous process can be helpful, useful, simple, beautiful, elegant, or more loving. It is always exciting. For scientists, the moment of discovery is their Eureka! moment; in the arts, as in psychology, it is an epiphany; and in spiritual or religious terms, enlightenment.
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.