A Partridge A Day…
(By Rev Paul Graham)
Today is traditionally the Feast of the Epiphany in the church calendar, as we recognise that 12 days have passed since Christmas Day. Of course, most of us know all about the 12 days of Christmas from the famous song of the same name, so I hope that today you are all the happy recipients of 12 drummers doing what they do best. Whether you are also in receipt of yet another 11 pipers, 10 leaping lords, etc to add to your increasing menagerie/orchestra/aviary/farm is a matter of some conjecture, but if you did, then you would be receiving the final delivery of 78 gifts today, taking your grand total to 364 – the equivalent of one a year all the way up to next Christmas Eve. Not something for the faint-hearted…
Of course, such things are purely imaginative and good for exercising the vocal cords (altogether now “FIVE GO-OLD RINGS!”). Were any of us to receive a gift of 8 milk maids (plus the corresponding quantity of dairy cows), I think we would blanch a bit, let alone fear an accusation of modern day slavery. Be that as it may, it is a good way of remembering that Christmas and the gift of giving can continue long after the last of the leftover turkey (or vegetarian equivalent) has been curried.
Epiphany isn’t just about drummers and their ilk, though. This is the moment when we remember the visit of the Magi, those mysterious numberless members of some eastern sect (possibly royal, possibly astrologers, possibly members of the idle rich with a stargazing hobby) who pay a visit to the infant Jesus to deposit three valuable but probably quite impractical gifts.
But in a way the most meaningful part of Epiphany for me is that it is the time that the decorations are finally put away, the Christmas tree lights are carefully unwound from their temporary homes to be tangled back up in their boxes and the very numerous nativity scenes are stowed away carefully ready for next December. Yes, Christmas is officially over (though we stopped listening to Christmas songs on December 31st – we do have some standards).
This is a time of some sadness, not least because there is still something – can I use the word magical? – about Christmas. I know that I will never experience the same feelings that I had as a child, waking up on a cold Christmas morning to discover that Santa still had plenty of rolled up notebooks, pens and satsumas to stuff into one of my dad’s (clean) socks. I know that I didn’t get to do some of the things this last Christmas that I really love: no singing of the last verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful” just after midnight on Christmas Eve in the darkened surroundings of the church echoing with the first wishes of a merry Christmas among the gathered few. But there are still many of the trappings of Christmas that I will miss as we follow the relentless ticking of the clock into January and the anticipation of a year that won’t spring quite so many surprises on us as the previous model.
But then again there is a determination to echo the sentiments of one Ebenezer Scrooge and endeavour to keep Christmas all year – not the tree, lights and (even for me) nativity scenes, but rather the (if you pardon the pun) spirit of Christmas. What doesn’t go back in the loft is the mystery of Christmas, where God became a human being (albeit a perfect one) who showed us the way to live life to the full. Not by having the best presents (which can be more exciting in the anticipation than the owning), or by having the heartiest feast (even I have a sprout consumption limit), but by being willing to walk the path of humble service and sacrificial love.
We see this in the Christmas story (not the Dickens one), as Mary and Joseph gave up so much to be the earthly parents to the Godchild; the shepherds and Magi obeyed the directions of (respectively) angelic host and bright shining star, and, ultimately, God sacrificed the most as he “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:7).
Epiphany is when we look at things in boxes – whether that is in packing up our own decorations or the gifts of the Magi – but maybe we ought to be looking outside the box instead. Maybe this is the time when we can start looking for new and different ways that we can enact the spirit of Christmas in its full, generous, loving way throughout the coming year. Possibly even for the next 364 days…
 The excellent John Julius Norwich version of the story shows the ramifications of sending these gifts to an increasingly irritated admirer. And this was only receiving 1 partridge in total. Do not try this at home!
 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, p70 – though the Muppets did it much better in my opinion.