The Rev. Rick Lawson hates the sight of discarded Christmas trees in the gutter as he drives home from church on Christmas Day. He winces at the day-after rush to the stores.
“Nothing is more shocking to me,” says Lawson, dean of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Salt Lake City. “So many people see it as the end of the festivities, but in the church it is just the beginning of a celebratory season.”
For many branches of Christianity, that season culminates on Jan. 6, which is known variously as Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. Taken from the Greek for “manifestation,” Epiphany began in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the third century to honor Jesus’ baptism. In that tradition, the Epiphany service includes a blessing of water as a symbol of renewal and regeneration. Individual members can take some of the blessed water to their homes to drink and to use for healing.

The Roman Catholic Church and, later, several Protestant churches, shifted the focus to the story of the magi, the wisemen from the East who followed a bright star to the manger and brought gifts to baby Jesus. Today, these faiths use the day to celebrate Jesus’ introduction to the world beyond Judaism.
Some faiths, such as the Episcopal Church, observe Epiphany with the Eucharist and special prayers on the actual date. Episcopalians don’t put the wisemen in their creche until then.
“O God, by the leading of the star you manifested your only son to the peoples of the
earth,” says this year’s prayer in the Episcopal liturgy. “Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face.”
But others move their observance to the Sunday before Jan. 6.
“For us, it is a time to celebrate Christ being revealed to all the world,” says the Rev. Annemarie Burke of Mt. Tabor Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City. “He came first to the Jewish people, then to all the nations as symbolized by the magi, people from the East.”
On that day, Burke says, “Lutherans also focus on the light of Christ symbolized by the star.”
In Mexico, the day is called El Dia De Reyes, or Wise Men’s Day. Children believe that the three magi will deliver presents to them so they leave their shoes out on the night of Jan. 5.
In America, however, Epiphany is fading from public consciousness. Beginning Jan. 5, for example, Utahns are expected to strip their Christmas trees of all ornamentation and place them in the parking strip nearest their houses for pickup by trash crews.
“We don’t plan our schedules around religious holidays, ” says Lorna Vogt, associate director of sanitation for the county. “We have 80,000 homes we pick up and that’s when most residents put their trees out.”
That’s too bad for Christians whose celebration doesn’t end until Epiphany.
“That’s the day we bring to an end 12 days of Christmas, undecorate the tree and turn our focus to Christ’s ministry,” Lawson says. “The rest of the world is all going secular.
It’s very sad.”
The Salt Lake Tribune – January 5, 2009
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