Six days into the new year and you may think it’s well and truly back to business as offices start to hum with activity: the flickering of screens, frenetic tapping of keyboards and copious coffee drinking. It’s like it all never happened – the food, the parties and the indulgence are rapidly fading from view like a trail of yellowing Christmas tree pine needles.
This rather unimpressive anticlimax is a distinctly English-speaking, Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. From Spain to Slovenia and from the islands of Greece to the barrios of Buenos Aires, the festive season is brought to a close with an impressive array of customs and religious traditions know as Epiphany. Today is the day that many Christian churches celebrate the visit of the three wise men – the Magi – to the baby Jesus.
Those of an orthodox persuasion use the day to commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Orthodox Greeks enjoy the Great Blessing of the Waters, where the winter ban on sailing is lifted and young divers from Sydney to Cyprus plunge into the sea to retrieve submerged crucifixes. If icy or shark-infested waters are not your thing, a French-style Epiphany is centred around devouring the delectably buttery and almond-filled King Cake; he or she who finds the silver trinket imbedded in their tranche will have luck all year. In Italy, kids watch out for the Befana, the Christmas witch that delivers gifts to only those bambini that have behaved. She gives lumps of coal to the naughty ones – thankfully delicious black rock candy is sold these days so even the punishment is sweet.
The German-speaking world also throws its hat into the weird and wonderful traditions of Epiphany. It’s a public holiday in Austria and several German Länder as well as three of Switzerland’s cantons, where children dressed as the wise men will scuttle from house to house singing festive songs.
Sadly, those of us who find ourselves in a traditionally Protestant country have to settle for the joys of re-entering the office on this once sacred day. There is, however, no harm in using 6 January as an excuse to have something of your own desk-based Epiphany.
Three wise men and festive treats? Maybe not. But why not evangelise your way through that inbox? Like a shooting star, why not let a flash of creative inspiration astound your colleagues? New Year’s resolutions may be your thing but one little bit of Christmas sparkle is still allowed today, wherever you find yourself.
David Plaisant is an associate producer for Monocle 24.