Christmas is one of the rare holidays that seems to extend its reach both before and after its official date on the calendar. Many people leave their decorations and lights up for almost two weeks after Christmas. In many Christian traditions, there's a religious reason behind the decision to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the holiday a little longer. The Epiphany is a Christian holy day that closes the Christmas season on January 6th each year.
What Is the Epiphany?
Marked on the 12th day after Christmas, the Epiphany is a holy day that goes by various names around the world, such as the Feast of Epiphany, Three Kings Day, Theophany, and also Little Christmas. The term "Epiphany" finds its roots in the Greek word "epiphaneia," meaning "appearance" or "manifestation."
The Epiphany in Christian tradition refers to the manifestation of Jesus to the world, symbolizing a moment of divine revelation. In the Bible, the Epiphany happens when the three magi, or wise men, arrive in Bethlehem to meet the baby Jesus. Guided by a star, the three figures bring the baby Jesus gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh to honor his arrival to the earthly plain. Many artists over the centuries have depicted this scene in paintings, murals, and more.
Where and When Did the Epiphany Originate?
The Epiphany is nearly as old as the Christian faith and goes back to around 200 CE. Catholics, the first Christians, originally celebrated Jesus's birth, his divine appearance, and his baptism in the Jordan River roughly around the same time. However, by the fourth century, the Roman church began to separate the two events, designating January 6th as the day solely dedicated to the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox Church still maintains separate traditions from other Christian sects, and some people celebrate the Epiphany on January 19th because of these differences.
Who Celebrates this Holiday?
The Epiphany is celebrated by Christians across the globe, but the nature of the celebrations varies among different traditions. Western Christian churches often refer to it as Three Kings Day, emphasizing the visit of the three wise men to the infant Jesus. Eastern traditions, particularly in Orthodox Christianity, know it as Theophany, focusing on the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
In Spain, Catholics engage in parades featuring floats with individuals dressed as the biblical kings, and children unwrap gifts in a unique twist on the typical Christmas gift-giving. Greeks celebrate with water-blessing ceremonies, while in Bulgaria, some individuals partake in an age-old ritual of plunging into rivers and lakes to retrieve crucifixes, believed to bring protection from evil spirits.
What Is the Significance of the Epiphany?
The Epiphany is significant because it honors and marks the day Jesus was revealed to the world. In Western traditions, the focus is on the awe-inspiring encounter of the Magi with the infant Jesus and the symbolic act of gift-giving. On the other hand, Orthodox traditions highlight the baptism of Jesus, underscoring the spiritual significance of this event.
Do Christians in the U.S. Recognize the Epiphany?
While Christmas dominates the holiday season in the U.S., the Epiphany is recognized by some Christian denominations. Churches with a liturgical tradition often include the Epiphany in their worship calendar, acknowledging its importance in the Christian narrative. However, the extent of recognition varies, and for many, January 6 may pass without the grandeur associated with Christmas.
Whether celebrated as Three Kings Day, Theophany, or under another name, the Epiphany holds cultural and spiritual significance for Christian communities far and wide. The Epiphany provides an opportunity for Christians to conclude the festive season with reverence and contemplation, embracing the rich traditions that have evolved over centuries.