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Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Today, January 6, is Epiphany, one of those weird church related holidays that Sweden has a day off to celebrate. Trouble is, hardly anyone knows what the day is about. In some traditions, it commemorates the visitation of the Magi to the Christ-child and is actually a big celebration. In my tradition, when Epiphany is celebrated, (usually the Sunday prior to the 6th), it is focused on the light of Christ that now continues among us throughout the year. The word itself means to show or to reveal and thus also reaffirms the revelation of Jesus through his incarnation. In my own memory, Epiphany is associated with light, revelation and the Magi.
In Sweden, it is called Trettondag, the 13th day as the 12 days of Christmas ended yesterday. Shakespeare's play, the Twelfth Night is set on Epiphany eve. Many Swedes will begin taking down their Christmas decorations after today but many will wait until tjugondag knut, the 13th of January to "dance Christmas away." Tradition here is to toss your dry and brittle Christmas tree out the window of your home and some how the trees all get picked up somewhere along the way. I could never wait until January 13th to take down my Christmas decorations. I had them down before new year this year. To be fair, most Swedes don't put their tree up until just before Christmas eve while I had the whole house decorated by first of Advent. But the main thing about Trettondag here is this bonus holiday that falls after the new year has been rung in.
Swedes are notorious for stretching their holidays. For some reason, the eve of a holiday has great importance here, as well as the day after. I suppose you need a day to prepare, a day to celebrate and a day to recover. Still, it gets a bit ridiculous and one wonders how any thing gets done during certain times of the year.
Take this year for example. We were given a half day before Christmas eve (so many just take a whole day), Christmas eve, Christmas day and the day after Christmas as holidays. Then we were given New Year's Eve and New Year's Day as holidays and a half day on January 5th (to prepare for trettondag) and a whole day today. So since Tuesday was a half day, most took Monday as a holiday, stretched the half given day into a whole given day and enjoyed today as well. Tomorrow really marks the return of Sweden to the work force but some will take 2 extra vacation days and return on Monday. All in all, if you took 7 vacation days, you could've had 3 weeks off from December 21-January 6. Not bad. And since we get like 35 days off in a year, taking 7 is not a big deal because you will still have 28 more days to enjoy throughout the rest of year and that does not include other holidays, half days and "squeeze" days...when, for example, the holiday is a Thursday, they just throw in Friday as well. It's really remarkable.
Now of course, since we are clergy and had a full schedule of activities over the holidays, we didn't take the traditional days off, but I can say, that not logging very many hours in the office over the past two weeks has been wonderful. I feel like I can face the new year with good energy and excitement and that feels great. Of course, the fact that we are going on an 8 week vacation that starts on January 18 certainly makes a difference as well! More on that later. For now, I'm going to enjoy the rest of my trettondag holiday and get ready for the 2 day work week that remains. Although to be fair, I have to write a sermon and be ready to preach on Sunday so it's likely that I'll work a bit on Saturday as well. Don't you feel sorry for me?