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Observed by Christians
Type Christian
Date 6 January
Related to Twelfth Night
Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the Epiphany
Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the Epiphany

Epiphany (Greek: επιφάνεια, "the appearance; miraculous phenomenon") is a Christian feast intended to celebrate the 'shining forth' or revelation of God to mankind in human form, in the person of Jesus. The observance had its origins in the eastern Christian churches, and included the birth of Jesus; the visit of the Magi, or Wise Men (traditionally named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) who arrived in Bethlehem; and all of Jesus' childhood events, up to his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. The feast was initially based on, and viewed as a fulfillment of, the Jewish Feast of Lights. This was fixed on January 6. Ancient Liturgies speak of Illuminatio, Manifestatio, Declaratio (Light, Manifest (show), Declare) cf St. Matthew's Gospel (iii, 13-17); St. Luke's (iii, 22); and St. John's (ii, 1-11); where the Baptism and Cana are dwelt upon. The Christian Churches have traditionally also talked of a Revelation to the Gentiles where the term 'Gentile' meant all non-Jewish peoples. The Biblical Magi represent the non-Jewish peoples of the world.


Epiphany in different Christian rites

Western Christian Churches (Old World)

In the Western church, the feast of Christmas was established before that of Epiphany.

The early western Christian Church decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25. The East continued to treat January 6 as the day marking Jesus's birth. The west generally acknowledges a twelve-day festival, starting on December 25, and ending on January 6, known as the twelve days of Christmas, although some Christian cultures, especially those of Latin America and some in Europe extend it to as many as forty days, ending on Candlemas, or February 2 (known as Candelaria in Spanish).

In the Western Churches it is associated principally with the visit of the Magi or Wise Men

Prior to 1970, the Roman Catholic Church (and prior to 1976, the Anglican churches) reckoned Epiphany as an eight-day feast, beginning on January 6 and continuing through the Octave of Epiphany, or January 13.

Many traditionalist Catholics continue to use this calendar, celebrating the feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday within the octave. On the Feast of the Epiphany itself, the priest, wearing white vestments, will bless the Epiphany Water, frankincense, gold, and chalk. The chalk is used to write the initials of the three magi over the doors of churches and homes.

More recently, most Roman Catholics in the United States mark Epiphany on the Sunday after the first Saturday in January (before this the Sunday between January 1 and January 6 in years when there was one, was designated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus), and most Catholics and Anglicans (along with many other Protestants) now formally end the Christmas season on the Sunday immediately following January 6, or, for American Catholics, the ensuing Monday in years when the Epiphany falls on January 7 or January 8. In either case, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is observed on the latter day, after which the first installment of Ordinary Time begins. (But note that some Churches, such as the Anglican Catholic Church, and some groups of Roman Catholics, still use the pre-1970 calendar; for these bodies, Christmas still has twelve days and ends on January 5, and Epiphany is still celebrated on January 6 with an 8-day octave.)

The Irish call this day Little Christmas or Women's Christmas (Irish: Nollaig na mBan). In Rome, "Epiphania" was transformed into Befana, the great fair held at that season, when sigillaria of terracotta or baked pastry were sold (Macrobius I, x, xxiv; II, xlix).

In France, on Epiphany people eat the gâteau des Rois in Provence or the galette des Rois in the northern half of France and Belgium. This is a kind of king cake, with a trinket or a bean hidden inside. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes king for a day.

In the United States Christmas usually ends the day after December 26 while other parts of the World are still celebrating Christmas up until the Epiphany or even beyond the Epiphany.

Western Christian Churches Spain and Ibero-America

In Spain, Mexico, Cuba and some Latin American countries Epiphany day is called El Día de los Reyes (The Day of the Kings). The day when the Three Kings or Three Magi of the Bible arrived to worship and bring gifts to the baby Jesus after following a star in the heavens. This day is sometimes known as the Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (The day of the Three Magi) or La Pascua de los Negros (Holy Day of the Blackmen) in Chile, although the latter is rarely heard. In Spanish tradition, on the day of January 6th, the Kings: Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar, representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa, arrived on horse, camel and elephant, bringing respectively gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.

In Mexico, it is traditional for children to leave their shoes out on the evening of January 6, sometimes filling them with hay for the camels, so that the Kings will be generous with their gifts. In Puerto Rico, it is also a tradition for children to fill a box with grass or hay and put it underneath their bed, for the same reasons. This is analogous to children leaving mince pies or cookies and milk out for Santa Claus in Western Europe. In some parts of northern Mexico the shoes are left under the Christmas tree with a letter to the Three Kings. In the afternoon or evening of the same day the ritual of the Rosca de Reyes is shared with family and friends. The Rosca is a type of sweet-bread made with orange blossom, water, and butter; decorated with candied fruit. Baked inside is a small doll representing the baby Jesus. The person who finds the doll in his piece of rosca must throw a party on February 2nd, Calendaria Day, offering tamales and atole (a hot sweet drink thickened with corn flour) to the guests. Notably, in Spain, it is also known as Roscon; made with the same items, however, between the layers of bread, lies different flavoured whip cream. The 'Jesus' doll evolved into a small toy similar to a Kinder Surprise. The person gets the toy, is then responsible for the purchase of the Roscon the following year.

Eastern Christian Churches

The first reference to Epiphany in the Eastern Church is a slighting remark by Clement of Alexandria in Stromateis, I, xxi, 45:

"There are those, too, who over-curiously assign to the Birth of Our Saviour not only its year but its day…"

Origen's list of festivals (in Contra Celsum, VIII, xxii) omits any reference to Epiphany. The first reference to an ecclesiastical feast of the Epiphany, in Ammianus Marcellinus (XXI:ii), is in 361.

Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and second person of the Holy Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked the only occasion when all three persons of the Holy Trinity manifested their physical presence simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove overflying the scene. Usually called the Feast of the Theophany (Greek: Θεοφάνεια), it is one of the great feasts of the liturgical year; "theophany" is Greek for "God shining forth". In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, it is known as Timkat.

Orthodox Churches also perform a "Blessing of the Waters" on Epiphany Day: following Divine Liturgy, clerics proceed to the nearest body of water, be it a beach, a harbor, a quay, a river, a lake, a swimming pool, a water depot etc, and after a short ceremony they cast a cross in the water. If swimming is feasible on the spot, any number of volunteers may brave the cold winter waters and try to recover the cross. The person who gets the cross first swims back and returns it to the cleric, who then delivers a special blessing to the swimmer and their family and household. Certain such ceremonies have achieved particular prominence, such as the one held annually at Tarpon Springs, Florida.

See also

External links

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Christmas Guide, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.