Yesterday at work I was surprised to discover that I had no patients booked for today. When I enquired as to why that was the receptionist smilingly informed me that today was a holiday, or a “helgdag” to use the Swedish expression. Trettondedag jul (literally “thirteenth day Christmas”), she said.
When I rang Maria to let her know that I didn’t have to turn up to work today I asked her what exactly Trettondedag jul (also called simply Trettondagen) was celebrating. Its when the three wise men came, Maria said without hesitation. Imagine that I would be ignorant of such basic knowledge. I had to admit that I had no idea that they arrived thirteen days after Christmas… Here in Sweden many churches have a service on this day.
So why, I wondered, do we not commemorate this day in our English speaking tradition? An email from a friend in the UK, however, alerted me to the fact that we do, in fact, mark this day on the church calendar at least. In the English speaking world it is called Epiphany, or Twelfth Day. This day celebrates, I discovered from Wikipedia, the revelation of God in human form. The significance of the Magi, the wise men, is that they were Gentiles – non Jews – who came to see the Christ, who they recognised as a king come from God. God thus revealed himself to the Gentiles.
This tradition has not been a prominent part of my Christmas memories. Perhaps because it is not a public holiday in Australia. Though I’m sure if it was suggested to the largely skeptical (when it comes to anything religious) Australian public it would be instantly embraced as worthy of a day off.