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  • Yara Zgheib

On an Epiphany


Something incredible happened on the night of January 6. Thousands of years ago, three kings arrived on horse – or camel - back to a little town called Bethlehem, carrying gold, myrrh, and frankincense. They had left their kingdoms to cross a desert and give these presents to a child. They knelt, in a manger, these three wise men to a baby, the son of a carpenter.

In ancient Roman times, during the darkest and coldest time of the year, the Winter Solstice, something incredible used to happen as well. Every year, for a day, masters and slaves were all equal. All ate at the same table, where one person was elected to be king. That day was called ‘spring eternal.’

Throughout it, the king, whatever the life he had held, could wish for anything and receive it. He could also bestow presents and acts of kindness on others.

Centuries later, people took to hiding a bean inside cake or bread. A bean because it was the first sign of spring. A promise after the winter. It, or rather fate, luck, God, destiny, would determine who was king. Tucked secretly into the dough and baked, found later in someone’s slice. A coronation and night of celebration would follow, for everyone.

Something this incredible only happens once a year and only lasts for a night. One night in which anyone could be royalty. Gender, birth, age, wealth aside. Past and future irrelevant, the only determinant: who you are. Now. One night in which anyone and everyone can share cake and make wishes.

The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from the ancient Greek word: ‘manifestation.’ It is defined as ‘a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization:’

Like this idea: the weighty rules we made up to rule our world - and that now rule us - suspended for a day. Imagine that. Incredible. Yet,

It does happen. It has been for centuries, across religions, cultures, countries, generations. The premise remains the same: a king, a queen – both of them usually children; cake and celebration; and hope, unmocked by the even most cynical and the most weary, in spring.

There is an apartment in a white building in a dead-end side street in Beirut, where once a year, on the fifth floor to the right, a large and noisy family gathers. The grandmother, the day before, hides two beans in the dough and marks their spots. Being the hostess and head of the family, she rules the serving spoon, of course.

She fills the plates herself and distributes them. Minutes later: magic! The beans have been found, somehow, incredibly, always by a grandson and granddaughter.

The children are crowned. Lunch is long, boisterous, and lovely, as it should be. An extra slice remains ready for the impromptu guest, on the table.

It took the biblical kings of Orient twelve days to find Bethlehem. It will take forever, perhaps longer, to uncover grandmother’s secret. Perhaps because no one wants to. Perhaps because the incredible – a child king, enough food and happiness for everyone – does not have to be true, just believed.

#culture #history #reflection

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