Should the crib scene be removed at the end of Christmastide, or should it continue to be displayed until Epiphany? If so, should only the Magi be present and the shepherds be removed? Alternatively, if the latter, should the crib remain until the end of the season of Epiphany?
Your answers: To decide, we need to have a sense of what Christmastide, Epiphany, and the Epiphany season are about.
Deciding what the Epiphany season is about is difficult. The Promise of His Glory (1991) was more explicit than Times and Seasons (2006), and, although it was working with a different lectionary, it helps to enlighten the CW Epiphany season. PHG proposed a festal period from Christmas Day to Candlemas “parallel to the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost”, which focused on “incarnation and revelation themes” (page 206).
Within this, however, it had two distinct seasons: one (Christmastide) more focused on Jesus’s birth, and the other (Epiphanytide) more focused on revelation. The CW Christmas and Epiphany seasons, despite using a different lectionary, also form a sort of “incarnation season” with two successive emphases: Jesus’s birth, and his manifestation.
The feast of the Epiphany is a sort of hinge: the Gospel is St Matthew’s birth narrative, but it begins the focus on revelation (or manifestation). So, it is appropriate to keep the crib up. The crib is derived from St Luke’s birth narrative, and it would seem sensible just to add the Magi into the scene. The incompatibility of the Matthaean and Lucan birth narratives has never bothered iconographers or carol-writers: both stories reflect on the same event.
But the Epiphany is the last time a crib scene fits with the lectionary. When Jesus briefly regresses to 40 days old at Candlemas, the scene is the Temple in Jerusalem. Keeping the crib up for 40 days allows us to stay comfortably in the familiarity of the crib scene instead of pushing us out into the world with Jesus to see the Kingdom of God begin to become manifest.
(The Revd Dr) Daniel Trott
[Times and Seasons presupposes the crib after Epiphany, however: “A Service for the Festival of the Baptism of Christ” includes a procession to it. Editor]
Keeping the crib until either Twelfth Night or Candlemas is possible, and each can be argued for. Those making the decision may base it on local custom or pastoral need. In a change to recent practice at the church where I have been Vicar for a few months, we took the crib down this year after the 12 days of Christmas. The star that was suspended above the now absent crib mysteriously remained for several weeks, however, and made for an elegant and beautiful blend of the two approaches.
(The Revd) Edward Carter
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