7 Ways to Celebrate Epiphany with Your Children
Christians have measured time differently dating all the way back to the early church. Our new year begins in Advent and ends on Christ the King Sunday (better known in the U.S. as Thanksgiving Sunday). Twelve (a common number in scripture) days after Christmas is Epiphany - the celebration of the coming of the Magi from the East. Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season according to the lectionary calendar (or Christian Calendar). Epiphany is the next marker in the rhythm of our remembering of God’s story.
Epiphany is an “ah ha” moment. It naturally follows the awe and wonder of Christmas as the wisemen pay homage to the new king, whose star they saw, probably like two years prior. Sorry to ruin your tidy Nativity scene. Psst! They weren’t all there at the same time! Twelve days seems like a good condensed version of those two-ish years, right?
We have often lumped Epiphany in with Christmas in our manger scenes. There is nothing wrong with that, except that we have belittled the importance of celebrating the “ah ha!” January 6th of every year marks the epiphany that Jesus was the Messiah. The King of kings. The Long Awaited One. Jesus is that guy! And it was the very intelligent men from the orient that studied stars and knew that new stars meant new kings. They didn’t even have Google or GPS to help with their discovery! That discovery was Awe-some! It should be celebrated!
So, what are some things you can do to celebrate Epiphany with your children? Since we are on the cusp of the day arriving, I want to give you simple, easy suggestions that require very little prep on your part, the parent or teacher.
Watch this upbeat version of "We Three Kings."
Read Matthew 2:1-12 outloud. Give the children paper and markers to draw out the images or figures they hear as you read it. (You may want to do this slowly). Instead of paper and markers, use playdough if you have it on hand to make a claymation of the story they hear as you read it. Talk about what they made and why it was important in the story.
Eat a King Cake! If you live on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans this will be an easy purchase. You may have to improvise other places. You will need a small plastic "baby" to represent the king (Jesus) in the cake. It's a fun tradition of seeing who will get the piece of cake with the king. (Warning! Choking hazard!) Even the colors on the cake symbolize the season of Epiphany. To learn more, click here.
You probably don’t have gold, frankincense and myrrh on hand unless you are an essential oils kind of person. If you do, let them touch or smell the scents. If you don’t, look them up on the computer. Tell the children about the importance of the three gifts: Gold was symbolic of Jesus being a royal king in this world. Frankincense was a symbol of divinity (God). Myrrh was a spice used for funerals in the ancient world making it a symbol of the reason Jesus came to earth - to die for our sins.
Create a “star-light” scene. You will need a large ziplock plastic bag, sharpie(s), a black piece of construction paper the size of the bag and a long triangle of white paper that will serve as the light coming from the star. Invite your children to lay the plastic bag out flat and draw what they imagined it looked like in the stable (manger, cows, sheep, Mary, Joseph, etc.). Next, have them put the black piece of construction paper inside the zip lock bag so you can’t see their drawing anymore. As you do this, share with the children that when Jesus was born, he had come into darkness. The world did not know who Jesus was yet and so people lived without much hope. Then, place the triangle of white paper inside the bag on top of the black paper. You can attach a star to it at the top if you’d like so it looks more like a star shining. Have the children move it around so they can see the shapes they had drawn earlier. It should appear to be like a light shining into the darkness. As you do this, share with the children that when Jesus came to earth, He was the light in the darkness. The wisemen that came to meet him followed a star that gave off light and led them to the Light of the World. We celebrate Epiphany because the Wisemen knew Jesus was a king. (here is similar idea on Instagram)
Have a scavenger hunt for Jesus. This will take some preparation ahead of time. If you haven’t put your nativity away for the year, great! If not, dig it back out! The final object of this scavenger hunt should be finding Jesus in the manger. If you don’t have a nativity, just use a doll for the Christ child and hide him in the location of the final clue. If you don’t have children who can read yet or the time to put together clues, you can just make it more a less a game of hide-and-seek with baby Jesus. At the end of the game, talk with your children about how the wisemen had to follow clues (the star) to find the new king. Ask them how we can still look for Jesus today.
Chalk your house. This is an ancient tradition that follows the story of three magi. Psst! Scripture doesn’t say there were only three. The legend stated that their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Click on the link for more information on their story. The idea is that you are giving your house a “blessing” that looks a little bit like holy graffiti. If you don’t feel comfortable chalking your house, a driveway or sidewalk will do. It will look a little bit like algebra. Write 20 (for the 21st century) + C (for Caspar) + M (for Melchior) + B (for Balthazar) + 22 (or the year we are in). So, 20 + C + M + B + 22. This is understood to be a blessing, not a magic number. It stands for the “ah ha” moment of the kings coming to meet Jesus. It represents that we are now the messengers that get to go into the world and share the light of Christ with others. Jesus is now known and that is something wonderful to celebrate!