Today is the Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany or the twelfth day of Christmas, and tonight is known as"Twelfth Night" (or "Twelfthnight"). It begins the celebration of Christ's revealing His Divinity in three ways, which is formally celebrated Saturday:
n To the Magi who, guided by the great and mysterious Star of Bethlehem, came to visit Him when He was a Baby (Matthew 2:1-19).
n Through His Baptism by St. John, when "the Spirit of God descending as a dove" came upon Him and there was heard a voice from Heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1), and all Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity were manifest (Note: the Baptism of Our Lord is also commemorated on the 13th of January).
n Through His first public miracle - that of the wedding at Cana when Our Lord turned water into wine at the request of His Mother (John 2). Just as God's first miracle before the Egyptian pharaoh, through Moses, was turning the waters of the Nile into blood, Our Lord's first miracle was turning water into wine.
In many Catholic homes (especially Italian ones), it's not Christmas Day that is for giving presents to children, but the Feast of Epiphany, when the gifts are given in a way related to the Magi. So today will have a "feel" of Christmas Eve, and because of the Epiphany's association with the Magis' gift-giving, tomorrow is often referred to colloquially as the "Little Christmas."
It is today that the Three Kings should reach the creche (heretofore, they should be kept away from it) and that Baby Jesus should be adorned with signs of royalty, such as a crown, ermine, and gold or purple cloth. Set up golden candlesticks around the manger where He lies.
Along with the crowns, scepters, gold, and royal purple, peacocks are also a symbol for the day. They are more generally a symbol of immortality (and therefore a good symbol for Easter, too), but also a symbol of royalty and of the glory revealed by Christ today. The most profound symbols of all, though, are light as a symbol of theophany; wine in memory of the miracle at the wedding in Cana; water and the dove in memory of Christ's Baptism by St. John; the Three Kings, their gifts, and the Star of Bethlehem.
Whether you're Catholic or Protestant, an ecumenical Christian or even a pagan, it's good to know that such traditions can and do exist in our culture.
It's good to know too that the spirit of Christmas doesn't end at Dec. 25 - and that it can continue not only for another 12 days, but throughout the year.