The Heart of It
My youngest came home from school a few days ago with the grand idea of writing to the Three Kings to ask for gifts. Hhhhmmm. This was yet another unexpected glitch in my plans as I try to veer away from what I feel are materialistic versions of the festivals. There are so many ways to celebrate each festival and we should certainly find ways to make them more relevant to our family life, but I think we should always celebrate them consciously–whether we put shoes out and fill them with treats for the children to find the next day, or simply change the scene on the nature table–we must strive to understand what sits at the heart of each festival and why we do what we do with our children.
My mother made really cute papier mache shoes adorned with rope and studs when we were little. These were the Three Kings Shoes. They were huge and looked like fairy tale king shoes–really adorable and large, so there were all sorts of treats in them–but I chose not to do that for my children, mainly because I didn’t really see the connection. Though finding those treats in the shoes still bring fond memories, I wanted something different for my children–something simpler and not centered on them receiving more things. My idea of the Three Kings forever became equated with candy-filled royal footwear; I wanted something more for my children.
Still I let them write their letters and conferred with my partner about how I should handle it. He wisely advised me to take the letters, which I did, and simply say that the Three Kings give gifts to the Christ Child. The children greeted me that morning with news that there were no gifts but their letters had disappeared. I told them the gifts were for the Christ Child. They accepted it as I knew they would. They went down to breakfast and found two pieces of star-shaped raisin bread on their plates and ate them with joy, already past whatever disappointment they may have had upon finding their letters gone with no gifts in sight.
That evening we lit a candle and sang an Epiphany favorite, “We Three Kings” and read an Epiphany legend that told of the sad state of the world that prompted the Christ being to come, which involved the preparation and love of other heavenly forces. The Son of God was said to have fashioned a new star from the sun, whose warmth and strength would then heal the earth of the grey mist of lovelessness that was threatening to overpower it. This became known as ‘the Star of Love’. The children listened intently. Already, in the story, there is a picture of an all-encompassing gift to mankind that was being prepared way before the Christ Child appeared in the manger and was visited by the Three Kings, who had been told to keep watch for the star. Tonight we continue the legends and begin the journey of the Three Kings. I have the book “Stories for the Festivals of the Year” by Irene Johanson to thank for accompanying us through the festivals.
We all have much to learn about every festival and each year I find myself coming into them in different ways, but in celebrating with the children it would be helpful to let ourselves be guided by a sense of what the festival brings, before we plan our individual celebrations. They will only have meaning for the children if we ourselves are striving to come to an understanding of what these festivals bring and mean in our context today.
Here is an Epiphany verse also from the book by Irene Johansen:
The three Holy Kings have found the Star.
They eagerly follow; it leads them far.
Wherever the star shines, love must abide,
Then true thoughts can enter and in us reside.
God’s will can be done on earth aright,
If we find and follow the new Star’s light.