How (and When) we Celebrate Epiphany, and Why This Christmas Card is Definitely Not Too Late

by | Jan 6, 2018 | Christmas, January, January, Liturgical Year | 11 comments

Today is January 6th, which is the traditional date of Epiphany, the day that the three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem, having followed the star to meet the baby Jesus. But for Western Catholics, we celebrate it tomorrow, on the Sunday after January 1st.

Liturgical nerd details to follow, feel free to skip these next two paragraphs if that’s not you.

Before the 1969 liturgical calendar revisions, Christmas was an octave that went from December 25-January 1 (the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God), each day of Christmas was a solemnity, as is the case with the Easter octave. Christmastide went all the way to twelfth night, January 5th. January 6th was Epiphany, which was its own octave, and (until 1955) the celebration of Epiphany included the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Epiphanytide lasted until Candlemas (the Feast of the Presentation) on February 2nd. After Candlemas, the holidays were considered over and it was time to prepare for Lent.

Now, in the Latin Church, Christmas is one Solemnity: December 25, and is an octave, but not an octave of solemnities. This is to preserve the celebrations of the liturgies of the feast days that fall during the octave: St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents. Under the new liturgical calendar, in order to emphasize Sunday and Solemnity Masses and the readings that go with them, those celebrations supercede lesser feast days. A saint’s day that falls on a Sunday or during the Easter octave only gets bumped every seven years, since Easter moves, but those Christmas octave feasts would get bumped every year. (All it really means for us at home is no Christmas meat Friday. 😕) Epiphany is now celebrated on the Sunday after January 1st. Christmastide extends right past Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord, which is its own feast day, the Sunday after Epiphany, or the Monday after Epiphany if Epiphany is celebrated on January 7th or 8th. The Christmas season ends with the Baptism of the Lord.

tl;dr: Epiphany is tomorrow and it’s still Christmas until Monday!

Which is why it’s totally fine that I’m sharing our Christmas card with you guys today. (Epiphany celebration details to follow). I did get them out in the mail before Christmas, them promptly got the flu, followed by a sinus infection and was basically out of commission from December 20th-31st. The rest of the family got the flu too, but not as badly. Fortunately we’re all recovered now! Then, I finished our homeschool group yearbook (for 2016-2017 😬) and FINALLY got a chance to work on edits on the liturgical living in the home book. Whew. So no blogging. But now that’s done so here’s a wrap up of our year . . .

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s that time of year again! And what a crazy year it’s been. We’ve got a new baby and a new job in the family, and a lot of new paint on a very old house. We did some of the same stuff, like family trips to Disneyland and the national parks (this year was Arches, Yellowstone, and Sequoia) and never-before-done stuff like a depressed skull fracture and an ambulance ride. We keep it interesting.

Jack (15): He lost the sophomore class presidential election (as the incumbent) and declared, “I’m done with democracy.” He’s focusing his efforts instead on the St. Monica Academy baseball and JV basketball teams, the latter of which he has proclaimed himself captain. He was John Hancock in the school musical 1776 (we’ve since had to confiscate his gavel), and made the school honor roll every semester. And he received in the mail his US patent for the Boomerang Zip Line he invented with Grandad. He’s a (loveable) tyrant in general, but a big ol’ softy when it comes to his four-year-old sister Lulu — the only person who really understands him. He’s currently working his way through the Improv comedy online driver’s ed program, and has an appointment to get his learner’s permit at 8:20am on December 26, the morning he turns fifteen and a half. Los Angeles drivers please take note. (Update: He got it! And he’s been driving us pretty regularly and is terrific except for a tendency to drive too close to the parking lane, which MIGHT give me a heart attack.)
Betty (13): She is enjoying her first full year at SMA, especially English and math, and had her drawing of a partridge in a pear tree featured in the school Christmas concert program. She played on the volleyball team, made the school honor roll, and has Jack beat on citizenship awards, six to one. She loves baking and has become an accomplished cookie decorator. She doesn’t love laundry, but she’s pretty good at that too. She continues to be a big help to her mother, and has even added babywearing to her list of skills this time around. She’s a Hufflepuff through and through: friendly, loyal, and trustworthy. The word around school is that Betty has beautiful hair.
Bobby (12): He also likes SMA, and has claimed the positions of runner up class clown, and honorary bell choir captain. He continues to be our family class clown, but his jokes don’t really translate to Christmas card summary form. You kinda have to be there. He played on the flag football and basketball teams, and forgot his sweater for school Mass approximately twenty-seven times. He loves Narnia, and Middle Earth, and Hogwarts, and Galaxies Far Far Away. He is the proud owner of 150 carpenter ants, and 22 chickens. One of his favorite pastimes is getting bossed around by two-year-old Midge, who especially likes him to move her little stool and little chair (both) around at her direction during family rosaries.
Gus (10): Gus is relishing his role as man of the house during the day, and is the first Tierney Family School student to figure out that if you just sit down and get your schoolwork done, there’s a whole rest of the day for doing whatever you want. Which turns out to be mostly melty-beads. Seriously, does anyone want some melty-bead creations? We have some. He and Bobby are altar servers at St. Therese, so now the rest of us can fit in one pew again. He got to go away to camp for the first time this summer, and subbed in on the SMA football team when they were short players. He was Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Mr. Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol. He’s taken up the mantle of Jack’s neighborhood trash can business, mostly to feed his melty-bead habit. He continues to charm his way out of trouble, most of the time.
Anita (8): She knocked her front tooth clean out of her head for the second time in her life, this time on a zipline (but not JACK’S zipline which is fun and safe and please contact him if you’d like to market it for worldwide distribution). Fun fact: a knocked out tooth should be transported in milk. It seems to be reattaching, fingers-crossed, St. Apollonia pray for us. She played center on a flag football team with Frankie, and got to go head to head against him when she got pulled to the other team which was short players. She likes history and science and played a very convincing “evil unicorn” and “kid who goes to get the prize turkey for Scrooge.”
Frankie (6): On April 27th, Frankie was javelined in the forehead by a piece of ¾ inch pvc pipe, when he got in the middle of an ill-conceived game of pvc-spear-catch being played by his brothers. It just seemed like he’d need stitches until he became unresponsive in the ER waiting room, then had a grand mal seizure in the CT scanner. It turned out he had a depressed skull fracture. We were rushed in an ambulance from that hospital to one with a children’s trauma center. Jack was the man of the hour, filling out forms (albeit misspelling things like his brother’s name), turning on the ambulance siren, and being a great comfort to his mother. Family friends jumped into action to look after the other kids, and bring fast food burgers to us at the hospital. Jim left a meeting and got on a plane home. Grandparents left a formal dinner and rushed up the freeway. And after one touch-and-go night and a lot of stitches, he was back to his same old crazy self, with the addition of an exactly ¾ inch round scar on his forehead. He took one smell of Yellowstone National Park and re-christened it “Stinkostone.” He’s our best-ever first grade reader and is a completely self-taught bicycle-rider.
Lulu (4): Lulu continues to be pleased and delighted at life. She was super proud of her first practical joke, played on her beloved biggest brother: “Jack! I set the table, and gave you a LITTLE spoon.” If she could live anywhere in the world, it would be inside the Ariel ride at Disney California Adventure, which is her favorite, despite the fact that she’s never seen the movie.
Midge (2): She really liked the buff-loes at Yellowstone and is pretty sure she saw one everywhere we just went. She loves snuggling her baby brother, bossing her big brothers, wearing her baby doll carrier, and taking pictures on her play phone: “‘MILE, you guys!” She asked for a red, a white, and a cranberry for Christmas. If anyone knows what she’s talking about, let us know ASAP. (Update: The husband bought her some Raspberry Zinger snack cakes and she declared them to be exactly what she always wanted.)
George (6 months): This yankee doodle dandy was born on the 4th of July, our first ten-pounder. He is named for two great great grandfathers, his grandad, a great uncle, a president, a saint, and a blessed. He’s maybe the most extroverted person I’ve ever met, and enjoys the company of all people, himself in the mirror, and any toy with a face. His favorite activities include sleeping on mom, preventing the same from working on the computer (hence the lateness of this Christmas card), and radiant gummy smiles that make it hard to be too frustrated with that other stuff.
Jim has an exciting new job as the C.O.O. of Exer More Than Urgent Care, a small but growing company here in the LA area. He waged a Quixotic war against pool algae and ants (not Bobby’s ants), drove 3500 miles in a thirty-nine foot RV, and was glad to leave the baby-delivering to the professionals this time around.
Kendra didn’t LOVE 2017, what with the Frankie thing, and some pregnancy-related health issues, and a painting-on-a-ladder-at-five-months-pregnant-related tailbone fracture. She spent a year writing a 700 page book about living the Catholic liturgical year in the home, and is currently in negotiations with George about being allowed some time to cut it down to more like 400 pages. It’s due to be published by Ignatius Press . . . sometime. She is very much looking forward to relinquishing some of her driving duties to Jack in 2018. (Update: DONE! At least for now. I cut it down to close to 400 pages and submitted it to my editor yesterday!!!!!)
We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and officially extend each of you an invitation to visit and a place to stay. Especially if you’re handy with a paintbrush.
With love,
Jim, Kendra, Jack, Betty, Bobby, Gus, Anita, Frankie, Lulu, Midge, and George

And here’s George’s birth announcement, which went out with the Christmas card, which I think is totally legit.

And now on to Epiphany celebrations! Here’s what we’re doing:

1. Our Christmas decorations are still up! 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. Since we’re having a party tonight, and I missed so much of Christmas being sick, we’re going to wait to take down the tree and the Christmas decorations until Monday. ( . . . or maybe next weekend?) The nativity sets stay out until Candlemas on February 2nd. Then they get put away along with all the various books and knick knacks that accidentally got left out when I put Christmas away the first time.

2. Tonight, we’re hosting 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 our guests are bringing 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.

3. Tonight, 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 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).

4. Tomorrow, the kids will find the treats in their shoes, and the camel spit, and see that the 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. (This is why it’s nice to keep the nativity sets out until Candlemas, the Wise Men JUST got there!)

5. 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 queen to be the sub-ruler, girls choose a 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, anytime 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.

6. We’ll Chalk the Door and do an Epiphany House Blessing! I use the instructions and prayer found 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.

7. We’ll listen to this song. How is this the first year I’ve heard it?!?

And that’s that! Merry Christmas and Happy Epiphany and Happy New Year! Here’s hoping there’s more blogging around here is 2018.


  1. Amanda

    We also have a queen! She will rule with great peace, and make her siblings do stuff for her.

    Great card. Worth the wait!

  2. Maryalene

    Loved reading this update. Merry Christmas to the Tierney!

    Also, thanks for the info about the liturgical season. Helps clear up why my 82 year old mom has different ideas about the length/make-up of the Christmas season than me.

  3. E Marziello

    Wow! Thank you for sharing. I just started following you a couple of weeks ago and you are inspiring me to learn more about our Catholic faith! Love it!

  4. billie the girl

    Thank you for sharing the card and update and your beautiful home! I LOVED every minute of it <3 😀 We tried leaving all of our Christmas decorations up on purpose this year for the 12 Days of Christmas/Epiphany and I loved the extra reflection time and getting to enjoy the decorations for a little longer – we will definitely be doing it again next year!

  5. Aileen

    Love your family! And thank you so much for always sharing liturgically what y'all do, the meaning, links, etc. So helpful! As a cradle Catholic (very nominally raised) and also a revert there is so much I'm still learning. Sometimes the information is overwhelming and I don't know what to do so I do nothing. This year I'd like to start out slow and try a King Cake (using your recipe).

  6. Julie

    Your family is the best! Even though I only have three kids and my youngest is the same age as your oldest and I live in Florida, I still read your Christmas letter wondering, hmmm can I figure out a way to visit the Tierney family this year?!

  7. Theresa

    I love your liturgical traditions! Thank you for sharing your Christmas/Epiphany festivities with us! I like this reflection on how Christmas doesn't end with Dec 25th…
    I think there are many people whose joy ends with Christmas, but for us, Christians, it just begins… It is evident the Christmas cheer continues with your family. God bless you all!

  8. Kathleen Mooney

    I loved your Christmas card and family update. Just found your site tonight. We always leave our tree up until Epiphany too. Our record (gasp) is February! That was due to the birth of a child on Epiphany!
    Many blessings to you and your beautiful family!

  9. Sue K

    I have a question. In several places I’ve seen you mention that “the head of the household can bless it.” Do you have some document or something that says that? I’m not doubting you at all – I work with lots of families and encourage lots of blessed things, and would love to expand my teaching on making all that happen. Thanks so much! Love your work!

    • Kendra

      Hey Sue,

      In order to perform a blessing, a person must have both the faculties and the authority to do so. All rightful authority begins with God, and Jesus Christ himself is the founder and head of the Catholic Church. Our Lord passed authority to his apostles. They were the first bishops. Catholic bishops of today can trace their authority through a line of apostolic succession back to the first apostles. Foremost among the bishops is the Bishop of Rome, whom we call the pope. He is assisted by archbishops, patriarchs, prelates, and ordinaries who have authority over the people of particular physical areas, rites, or communities.

      Bishops are assisted by priests and deacons. A parish is led by a pastor, who exercises authority over the members of that parish. Below the pastor in the chain of ecclesiastical authority is the head of the household, who exercises authority over the members of that household.

      A subordinate cannot bless a superior or exercise ordinary powers in his presence. The priest, for instance, who is the principal celebrant of a Mass at which a bishop is present, is not to give the final blessing.

      Faculties, in the context of blessings, mean permission from the Catholic Church to perform a certain religious action. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1669 states, “Every baptized person is called to be a ‘blessing’ and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more its administration is reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priest, deacons).”

      To sum up: not every person can give every blessing. For laypeople, our faculties and authority to bless are largely confined to our food, homes, possessions, animals, and people for whom we are responsible. Parents are especially encouraged to bless their children.

      For some prayers, the fullness of the blessing is dependent on who performs it. A layperson can ask God’s blessing upon his possessions, but a layperson’s blessing cannot create a sacramental. Therefore it is preferable for a priest or deacon to bless things like candles and chalk and branches or herbs that will be used over time for religious purposes in the home, so that those items take on the character of sacramentals. When it isn’t possible to have them blessed by a priest or deacon, it is permissible—and always better than nothing—for a member of the family to perform these blessings at home.

      Many of these details are covered in Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers.


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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