Sharing the joy of a family Epiphany

Sharing the joy of a family Epiphany


Erin Fox looks at some traditional ways of celebrating the feast of the Epiphany


The feast of the epiphany is traditionally about celebrating the three wise men’s visit to Jesus Christ. But it also marks the end of Christmas for many.

The holiday is celebrated in many different ways across the world; each country having their own traditions, whether that is baking ‘King’s Cake’ in Poland and France, the blessing of waters in Russia or a men’s only dance in Bulgaria.

In Ireland, the feast day known as Little Christmas was also sometimes referred to as Women’s Christmas.

On the feast day, after cooking so much over the Christmas holidays, women had a day of rest while the men took over the domesticities.

Other Irish epiphany customs included burning a sprig of holly to symbolise the end of Christmas or nowadays simply taking down the Christmas tree, the crib and any other decorations.

Little Christmas has always been one final celebration of the holiday in my family. For me, the worst part of Christmas was always the day the decorations had to be taken down.

I used to beg my mum to keep everything in place until school started. In my family, it’s always been a tradition to have a Christmas dinner on January 6. We would take the term ‘Little Christmas’ quite literally by having a mini meal; we bought a smaller turkey and ham than what we had on December 25.

The day would begin with us attending Mass as a family. Our local parish in Bangor, Co. Down, sometimes placed the figures of the three wise men in the crib only on that day before it was taken down the following day.

After Mass, we’d return to the house where my sister, my brother and I played with any games we received as Christmas presents and sneakily munched on any selection box leftovers while my mum cooked in the kitchen before dinner was served.

Like most families in Ireland, mine always took pride in the preparation and presentation of the Little Christmas dinner. The Advent wreath was ever present in the centre of the table and we lit all of the five melted down stubs of candles.

My mother had mini candle holders the size of thimbles that she would put at each place setting with a thin, green candle in each next to a Christmas cracker. At dinner, my parents toasted with wine while my siblings and I slurped on red or white cordial.

Melon balls with parma ham were a favourite starter, followed by the traditional turkey and ham dinner with thyme stuffing and parsnips, carrots and potatoes.

Mince pies were served for dessert or an upside down cranberry cake or mint flavoured ice-cream for the mince-meat hater.

Our dinner was always an imitation of the traditional Christmas Day dinner but on my mum’s side of the family they had a very different meal.

Goose was served as the main with pigs’ trotters as a side or a starter. The day ended with us sometimes watching a Christmas film together such as The Snowman or playing a game like a puzzle or with cards.

Celebrations in my family were not traditionally Irish; for starters we didn’t see the holiday as a special day for the girls.

Over the years, we’ve kept it simple and created our own traditional way of celebrating. One year my dad copied a Polish tradition by writing the names of the Three Wise Men above our front door as a way of showing the three kings where to stop to visit the baby Jesus. The feast of the Epiphany while celebrated by many is often ignored by some who may see Christmas Day as the sole celebration of the holiday.

For those, the day might simply just be a day to dump the browning Christmas tree. But whatever way the feast day is spent, it should be celebrated as a family.