Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany // Thoughts

Tonight, for el Dia de los Tres Reyes, Three Kings' Day, we'll try to find a Rosca de Reyes, the Mexican version of a King Cake, at a local bakery.

(Above: A local bakery advertising its traditional offerings for the winter fiestas.)

What follows are just some random thoughts, nascent musings, seeds for future contemplation...

I find these kinds of traditions fascinating. For one thing, there's the "other" factor; eating fruitcake on January 6 is new to me and so it feels fresh and exciting, even if it is just, well, fruitcake. But for another, these traditions redefine realities that I already have, shaking them up and pushing me to think in new ways.

See, where I grew up, there was Thanksgiving, an Advent-y kind of pre-Christmas season, Christmas, New Year's, Back-to-school, Valentine's Day, and then usually some kind of Mardi Gras recognition only because I have an uncle and aunt who live near New Orleans. By contrast, here in Mexico I have experienced the Day of Guadalupe (or María), the Posadas (Mary and Joseph looking for lodging), Christmas, New Year's, Three King's Day, and then in a few weeks we're looking forward to candelaria or the Festival of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. See? With the exception of New Year's, all of the main Mexican celebrations are (1) deeply religious (Christian, obviously, but there are prehispanic ties, too, that are probably better left to another post) and (2) tell the story of Jesus' life.

That story is not new to me, because I (a) grew up in the church and (b) now am in seminary, where we love the lectionary and so of course we go step-by-step through the life of Jesus and the Holy Family during the time before and after Christmas. But you'll only get most of that story if you attend church regularly and pay much attention to the lectionary, which is something I absolutely did not do before I came to seminary. On the other hand, here in Mexico, this story - from Mary through the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (and beyond? stay tuned for Holy Week) - is (1) not confined to the church but is out in the public sphere and (2) is not only commemorated with a sermon but always has some kind of unique physical concrete practice attached to it (e.g., visit homes and act out a play during the Posadas, eat cake on Epiphany, etc).

By "out in the public sphere" I mean this: The biggest promotion at Wal-Mart today was Rosca de Reyes (Mexican king cake). They have these things stacked to the ceiling in all different sizes. Now, this begs lots of questions - Is it really religious or just a social tradition? Do we really want religion in the public sphere when that usually ends badly for both parties? - but I am simply struck by the fact that Epiphany is not some forgotten tack-on to Christmas that only churchy types care about but is in fact as visible as Christmas to the point that it is, yes, in the Wal-Mart.

(Above: Wal-Mart's rosca de reyes packaging. In the corner it says in Spanish: "The only one certified by Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.")

By "concrete practice" I mean, well: For Epiphany we eat cake. Cake shaped in a circle that contains a little plastic baby inside of it. Whoever gets that little plastic baby is obligated to throw a Candelaria party in a few weeks. Which means, if nothing else, that February 2, the day that Jesus is Presented in the Temple, is also (a) not forgotten and (b) remembered with not only a brilliant sermon but also a lively fiesta.

Anyway. Just some random thoughts, nascent musings, seeds for future contemplation. You know, because I'm (a) hoping to be a pastor someday and (b) just find this stuff fascinating.


From Michigan with Love said...

Wow I am (a) impressed at the culture and your love affair with all things new and (b) amussed at your endless bag of tricks in making reading your blog something to look forward to each day!

I (a) hope all is well, and (b) miss you both very much!

Zach Parris said...

thanks for the epiphanal thoughts. your insights into the dia de los tres reyes worked their way into a couple of conversations this week. Y feliz dia de el bautismo de Jesus.
-paz, zach