Dora and I went to the Epiphany service at our church tonight. We got there a few minutes late, sat in the back row, and Dora colored while I sang the last few Christmas hymns of the season and heard the children of All Soul's tell the story of the Adoration of the Magi. Then we all bundled up and headed outside to gather around the Christmas tree for the burning of the greens. It smoldered and sputtered, finally igniting dramatically, flames shooting up through the branches, sending sparks raining down around us. As we walked away Dora said, "I liked that!"
There was a reception afterwards, with lovely food and the most beautiful vase of white Calla Lilies. I chatted with the other parents about unruly toddlers at bedtime. Dora ran back and forth between our seat and the buffet, grabbing pieces of fruit and cheese. It is so nice to be in a place where you can let your child run free and know they are safe even if the aren't right next to you, to know that all the other parents standing around are keeping an eye on all the children. I met an older woman I've not spoken with before, who said Dora reminded her of her granddaughter.
I have always loved going to Epiphany services, holding out on taking down my tree until the Christmas season officially ends. I love the chance to savor this magical time once more, to stand around in the cold watching the tree burst into flames - or smolder, as it did tonight before it finally ignited. I tried to find the origins of the burning of the greens after coming home tonight, but I couldn't find anything informative. One site said it represents the changing of the seasons. I'd like to know where and how this tradition started - I suppose my brother can tell me. Tonight, as the priest struggled for a few moments to get the tree to ignite, I thought that, whatever its origins, this tradition opens up the possibility of the most ancient kind of technical difficulty - a fire that won't start. It did start, though, sending glowing orange embers up into the frigid North Carolina sky.
The woman I met, the one who said Dora reminded her of her granddaughter, offered to babysit. I don't think she was kidding. She said she could be like a surrogate grandmother to Dora. She said, "you probably have family in the area anyway." I told her we did not, that we'd moved here from Ohio. She told me again that she was serious, that her husband works in the evenings and she's retired, that she'd do a good job. It was sweet of her to offer, and I just might take her up on it someday. Dora gave her a huge hug goodbye.
As we drove home, taking the detour around bridge construction on Biltmore Avenue, I had an epiphany of my own. While its true that we don't have family here, in the biological sense, in the four years since we've moved here we have created a family of sorts for ourselves - our loving and wonderful friends, our neighbors, our church family. Its easy for me to let life get in the way of going to the extra things at our church - I'm doing well if I make it there on Sunday consistently. But tonight I was reminded of another reason why its so important to me to be there. Beyond being a safe place where Dora can run free, its a place where she can be around other kids, adults, older folks, people of all ages who are friendly and open and united around something we all believe in. I love that we have a place like this for her - where she can sing in the choir in a few years, wearing a little white cassock and black robe, a cross on a ribbon around her neck. I love that we have a place where a grandmother offers to babysit and I feel the genuineness and love of her offer. I love that I can have my own epiphany - that I can remember that we do have a family here, that we are surrounded by a supportive community, whose love warms and protects us like a fire sending embers up into the night.