Kendra Tierney

Liturgical Living in the New Year

Q: My New Year’s resolution is to incorporate more liturgical living into our family. But even though I grew up Catholic, I didn’t grow up with any of these traditions. I know Epiphany is coming up. What could we do to celebrate?

A: Excellent resolution! I was in just the same boat as a young mom: raised Catholic, but learning all of these traditions for the first time.

You can find a related question here, where I talk about the basics of what liturgical living in the home looks like for us, and how we incorporate the seasons of the Church calendar, saints’ days, and anniversaries of sacraments into our family life through special meals, stories, and conversations.

For Epiphany specifically, there are many great traditions from which to choose. Eventually, you just might get crazy enough to try them all. The traditional date of Epiphany is January 6th. In the Latin Catholic Church the observance of Epiphany has been moved to the Sunday after January 1st. In 2019, the Sunday after January 1st IS January 6th, so this year we have an old fashioned twelve days of Christmas. Yay! Here’s what we will do to celebrate:

The night before Epiphany, (this year, January 5th), the kids will put their shoes out by the front door, and leave some grass or lettuce out for the camels. The Three Kings will visit and leave a few little treats in the shoes: gold coins, maybe smarties because they’re wise, or milky way bars because they look to the stars. The camels will eat their grass, and leave behind camel spit (which looks a lot like a beaten egg white).

On Epiphany morning, the kids will find the treats in their shoes, and the camel spit, and see that our travelling Wise Men have finally arrived at the nativity set, after spending the days since Christmas wandering around the house under the cover of night.

We’ll have a King Cake. I like to use three packages of canned cinnamon roll dough, layer them in a bundt cake pan, top it with the frosting that comes in the package, and yellow, green, and purple sprinkles. When we had fewer people I used fewer packages of dough.

The period of ordinary time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday is King Cake season. You can have King Cake anytime during that period, but not before or after. And the rule is, if you find the baby Jesus in there (or bean or ring) you’re in charge of bringing the King Cake to the next gathering.

One of the kids will find the prize in the cake and get to be the King or Queen of Epiphany. They choose a consort (boys choose a subordinate queen, girls choose a subordinate king), and if a preschooler finds the prize s/he chooses a regent to help rule. The King or Queen gets to pick our meals (from what we have in the house) and the activities and entertainment (within reason) and assign chores (without being a bully about it). And during meals, any time the primary ruler takes a drink we all announce “The King is drinking! The King is drinking!” (or Queen) and everyone else takes a drink.

We’ll Chalk the Door and do an Epiphany House Blessing. The prayers are available as a printable booklet on my blog or online here. Some parishes give out blessed chalk, or you can bring some yourself and ask Father to bless it after Mass, or the head of the household can bless it at home. Afterwards, just bury the extra chalk. Since it’s blessed, it shouldn’t go back into the chalk box.

Some years, we’ll host an international potluck dinner. The three Wise Men are traditionally understood to have come from different continents: Europe (Melchior), Asia (Caspar) and Africa (Balthasar), so we ask our guests to bring a favorite international food: egg rolls or empanadas or ravioli or whatever, so that our dinner spread will be as universal as our Catholic/catholic faith. Some years we also do a White Elephant gift exchange, and have people bring their least-loved Christmas gift to foist on another party-goer (who might well be able to use/love it!)

Sometime after our Epiphany celebrations, we’ll take down our Christmas tree and most of the rest of the decorations. There are no official rules or mandates or anything, but it’s Catholic tradition to leave Christmas decorations up until twelfth night at least. The Vatican Christmas tree stays up through the Baptism of the Lord, which this year will be Sunday, January 13th. The nativity sets traditionally stay out until Candlemas on February 2nd. Then we put those away along with all the various books and knick knacks that accidentally got left out when I put Christmas away the first time.

There’s a lot to enjoy! This is one of our favorite holidays on the liturgical calendar each year, especially when we’re able to include friends and family in our celebration.

Kendra Tierney is a wife and a mother of nine children from little to teenager. She's a homeschooler and a regular schooler, and an enthusiastic amateur experimenter in the domestic arts. She writes the award-winning Catholic mommy blog Catholic All Year, is a contributor to the Blessed Is She and Take Up and Read Ministries, and is the voice of liturgical living at Endow Ministries. She is the author of A Little Book about Confession for Children, the Traditional Catholic Prayers for Awesome Catholic Kids series of prayer books, and the Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life.