Kendall Harmon

Bright bonfires to mark end of the 12 days of Christmas season

Bright bonfires to mark end of the 12 days of Christmas season

The same thing happens to Father Kendall Harmon every year during the 12 days after the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It happens with newcomers at his home parish, Christ-St. Paul's in Yonges Island, S.C., near Charleston. It often happens when, as Canon Theologian, he visits other parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

"I greet people and say 'Merry Christmas!' all the way through the 12 days" of the season, he said, laughing. "They look at me like I'm a Martian or I'm someone who is lost. … So many people just don't know there's more Christmas after Christmas Day."

To shine a light on this problem, some churches have embraced an tradition -- primarily among Anglicans and other Protestants -- that provides a spectacular answer to an old question: When do you take down that Christmas tree? The answer: The faithful take their Christmas trees to church and build a bonfire as part of the "Epiphany Service of Lights" on January 6th.

As always, in a rite framed by liturgy, there is a special prayer: "Almighty God our Heavenly Father, whose only Son came down at Christmas to be the light of the world, grant as we burn these trees this Epiphany night, that we, inspired by your Holy Spirit, would follow his example and bear witness to His light throughout the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, live and reign in glory everlasting. Amen."

The struggle to observe the 12 days of Christmas is similar to other trials for those who strive to follow the teachings of their faith during the crush of daily life, said Harmon.

Calls for Anglican candor

The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East is rich in symbolism, but not in the clout that comes from great numbers and wealth.

This branch of the Anglican Communion stretches from Algeria to Iran, a part of the world in which there are few Anglicans, but millions of Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Nevertheless, the archbishop of this tiny Anglican flock dared to bring a blunt message to the powerful Episcopal Church this past week -- please be candid as well as careful.

American bishops may believe that God wants them to modernize ancient doctrines about sex, marriage, salvation and the authority of scripture, said Archbishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt. But it's getting harder for other Anglicans to explain news about same-sex unions and gay bishops to their ecumenical and interfaith neighbors at home.

"You may believe you have discovered a very different truth from that of the majority in the Anglican Communion," said Anis, speaking to the men and women of the U.S. House of Bishops gathered in New Orleans. "It is not just about sexuality, but about your views of Christ, the Gospel and the authority of the Bible.

"Please forgive me when I relay that some say you are a different church, others even think that you are a different religion."

This meeting of the U.S. bishops was even more tense than usual because the world's Anglican primates, in a Feb. 19 communiqu