Once Jan. 6 was celebrated as the 12th night of Christmas, the eve of the Epiphany. As Garrison Keillor details in today's Writers' Almanac, the event receded in 19th century America, likely because capitalism's growth demanded a return to work. The old Scrooge ended up ruling the world.
In the ancient celebrations, as reflected in Shakespeare's comedy "Twelth Night," the evening's festivities were marked by upheaval from the normal order, led by a king of misrule. Donald Trump looks right for the part. Imagine him in a jester's cap.
In Catholic areas of the United States, observation of the Epiphany lingered until after World War II, especially among Catholics. The Epiphany, Jan. 6, the date the three wise man first saw the Christ child, was traditionally the date for removing Christmas decorations from the home. Now, many people put up their tree and lights even before Thanksgiving, and take down the decorations right after Christmas. A few folks still wait until the Epiphany to remove the holiday trappings.
Along with Shakespeare's play, the Epiphany has another notable literary connection. An epiphany feast in Dublin in 1904 is the setting for James Joyce's "The Dead," the classic short story that concludes the writer's brilliant collection "The Dubliners." Because of Joyce, the term epiphany was turned into a critical term meaning the point in a story in which a character reaches a new understanding about his or her life. John Huston, in his last movie before he died, directed a nearly perfect film version of the story.
For years, I read "The Dead" every year on the epiphany. The story overwhelmingly refutes those who claim that great art should eschew sentimentality - the story throbs with sentiment. I first read it as a young college student, and returned to it as I advanced to middle age. Now that I am old, I will go back to it.