The Third Day of Christmas – Feast of St. John the Evangelist
In the popular song The Twelve Days of Christmas, three French hens are the gift given on the third day. It is said they symbolize the three wisemen bearing gifts. I was struck by a story I read in the 2011 Magnificat Advent Companion that highlighted several Christmas traditions from around the world — the following touches on an Italian Epiphany tradition.
“In Italy, the sense of anticipation does not fade in the days following Christmas, for Italians eagerly look forward to the celebration of the Epiphany on January 6. In the mountain village of Rivisondoli, nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the eve of the Epiphany is celebrated with a living reenactment of the first Christmas on a massive scale. Up to 600 people, mostly villagers but some visitors as well, are given acting parts in this Nativity play. The actors make their way through deep snow, often with more snow falling from the night sky, as they descend a mountain slope to the cave that serves as the manger scene. The Blessed Virgin Mary arrives on a donkey, cradling the Christ child in her arms (a real infant) as Joseph accompanies her. The Three Kings come on horseback.
“The traditional day in Italy for exchanging gifts in honor of the Christ child is the solemnity of the Epiphany, inspired by the gifts of the Magi. Italian children are told to hang their stockings on the preceding evening in expectation of a visitor in the night, La Befana. The legend of La Befana relates that as the Magi were journeying they sought directions to Bethlehem from an elderly woman named Befana and urged her to join them in their quest. Busy with her broom, she declined, but afterwards regretted her refusal and set out to find the Christ child. Failing to find him, she has continued her quest for centuries, wandering from one home to another in the hope of bringing him a gift. Ever unsuccessful, she nevertheless leaves gifts for the children of the house.”
So here in the United States as radio stations stop playing Christmas hymns, neighbors rush to take down the Christmas tree and trimmings, and retailers stock shelves with Valentine’s Day gifts, many across the world have just started celebrating. And on this third day of Christmas, they still eagerly await the symbolic arrival of the Magi bearing gifts in honor of the Christ child.