What is Epiphany?
Epiphany, also known as Three Kings’ Day or the Feast of the Epiphany, is a Christian holiday that commemorates the visit of the Magi, or the Three Wise Men (Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar), to the baby Jesus. The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek “epiphaneia,” meaning manifestation or appearance.
The biblical account of the Epiphany is found in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:1-12). According to the story, the Magi followed a star to Bethlehem, where they found the infant Jesus and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This event is seen as the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah to the Gentiles.
Key aspects of Epiphany include:
- Date: Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th, which is 12 days after Christmas. In some Christian traditions, the Epiphany season lasts until the beginning of Lent.
- Symbolism of the Gifts: The gifts brought by the Magi—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—are often interpreted symbolically. Gold symbolizes kingship, frankincense represents divinity and worship, and myrrh is associated with death and burial, foreshadowing Jesus’s sacrifice.
- Cultural Celebrations: Epiphany is celebrated in various ways around the world. In some cultures, it is a day of gift-giving and festive meals. In others, it may involve special church services, processions, and the blessing of homes.
- Twelfth Night: In some Western traditions, the night before Epiphany (January 5th) is known as Twelfth Night. It is associated with the end of the Christmas season and is sometimes marked by festive events and the removal of Christmas decorations.
- Baptism of Jesus: In some Christian denominations, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus is celebrated on the Sunday following Epiphany, commemorating the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
The celebration of Epiphany varies among Christian denominations and cultural traditions. It holds significant theological importance as it highlights the universal nature of Jesus’s mission, welcoming people of all nations to recognize him as the Savior.
Food on Epiphany
Local bakeries in Spain also enjoy the fun and bake special pastries. Pastry shops sell annual ring-shaped rolls called Roscons on the morning of Epiphany.
The Roscons are filled with chocolate or cream and comes with a paper crown on top. When all of the local bakeries get together and do this it gets really fun and there’s even a game that goes along with it.
- King’s Cake or Three Kings’ Cake (Rosca de Reyes): In many Latin American and European countries, a sweet bread known as Rosca de Reyes is commonly consumed on Epiphany. This circular or oval-shaped cake is decorated with candied fruits to symbolize the jewels on the three kings’ crowns. Inside the cake, a small figurine representing the baby Jesus is hidden. The person who finds the figurine in their slice is considered blessed and may host a celebration on Candlemas (February 2nd).
- Doughnuts or Fritters: In some cultures, people enjoy doughnuts or fritters on Epiphany, often shaped like rings or crowns to represent the kings.
- Pancakes: Eating pancakes on Epiphany is a tradition in parts of the United Kingdom. This day is sometimes called “Twelfth Night,” and pancake races are a traditional activity.
- Dried Fruit and Nuts: Epiphany is associated with the Magi bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Some people incorporate these elements into their meals by serving dishes with dried fruits and nuts.
- Regional Specialties: Depending on the country or region, specific traditional dishes may be associated with Epiphany. For example, a special soup called “Ajo Blanco” is sometimes served in Spain.
- Feast and Celebration: In many cultures, epiphany is a time for festive meals and gatherings with family and friends. Traditional dishes served during this time vary widely based on local customs and personal preferences.
Epiphany traditions vary significantly from country to country, influenced by cultural, religious, and historical factors. Here are some examples of Epiphany traditions in various countries:
- Three Kings’ Parade (Cabalgata de Reyes): One of the most significant traditions in Spain is the grand parade held on the evening of January 5th. The three kings, often riding on elaborate floats, throw sweets and small gifts to the crowds. Many towns and cities across Spain organize these parades.
- Rosca de Reyes: A sweet bread ring adorned with candied fruits, representing a crown. A small figurine, often representing the baby Jesus, is hidden inside the bread. The person who finds it is supposed to host a party or buy tamales for everyone on Candlemas Day.
- Rosca de Reyes: Like Spain, Mexicans enjoy a sweet bread ring with a hidden figurine. The person who finds the figurine is expected to host a party and provide tamales.
- Three Kings’ Day Celebrations: Families gather to share a festive meal, often including tamales and hot chocolate. Children may receive gifts and participate in activities related to the Magi’s journey.
- Galette des Rois: A puff pastry filled with almond cream, the Galette des Rois is a traditional Epiphany treat. A small figurine, called a fève, is hidden in the pastry. The person who finds it becomes the king or queen of the day.
- Epiphany Processions: Some regions in France organize processions with participants dressed as the Three Kings.
- La Befana: In Italy, the kindly witch La Befana is said to bring gifts to children on the night of January 5th. Children leave out stockings for La Befana to fill with treats.
- Epiphany Feast: Families come together for a festive meal, and the day is marked with various regional dishes.
- Blessing of the Waters: In coastal areas, the Blessing of the Waters ceremony takes place on Epiphany. A cross is thrown into the sea or a river, and young men dive in to retrieve it. The one who finds the cross is considered blessed.
- Epiphany Church Services: Special services are held in churches across Greece, and the priest blesses water, which is then distributed to the congregation.
- Timkat: The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrates Timkat, a festival that includes the reenactment of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. Participants, dressed in colorful robes, engage in processions and ceremonies.
- Feasting and Music: Timkat is a time of joy, with feasting, singing, and dancing playing a significant role in the celebrations.
- Janeiras: Groups of carolers, known as “Janeireiros,” go door-to-door singing traditional Epiphany carols throughout the month of January. They are often welcomed with treats or small gifts.
- Bolo Rei: Like the Spanish Rosca de Reyes, the Bolo Rei is a special cake eaten during the holiday season, often with a hidden trinket or dried bean. The person who finds it is believed to have good luck.
- Three Kings’ Day Processions: In some Austrian towns and cities, processions featuring the Three Kings occur. These processions often include music, costumes, and a festive atmosphere.
- Epiphany Concerts: Many churches and cultural venues host special Epiphany concerts and performances.
- Three Kings’ Day Parades: Parades featuring the Three Kings, often accompanied by participants in traditional costumes, are held in various Polish cities.
- Chalking the Door: The custom of chalking the door with the initials of the Magi and the current year is practiced in some Polish households as a blessing for the coming year.
- Women’s Christmas (Nollaig na mBan): In some parts of Ireland, particularly in the west, January 6th is also known as Women’s Christmas. Traditionally, women take a break from household chores, and men take on the responsibilities for the day.
- Epiphany Swim: Brave individuals participate in “Swim With Care” events, dipping in the chilly waters to mark Epiphany.
- Blessing of the Water: Like other Orthodox Christian traditions, Russians celebrate the Blessing of the Water on Epiphany. Holes are cut in the ice to allow for the ritual dipping.
- Kolyadki Singing: People go door-to-door singing Kolyadki, traditional carols, during the holiday season, including on Epiphany.
- Czech Republic:
- Three Kings’ Day Processions: Some Czech towns organize processions with participants dressed as the Three Kings, reenacting the biblical journey.
- Epiphany Ball: In urban areas, particularly Prague, there may be Epiphany balls or social events with dancing and entertainment.
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Main Points About Epiphany Story
- Arrival of the Magi: The story begins with the arrival of “Magi from the East” in Jerusalem. These Wise Men are often depicted as kings or astrologers, following a star that they believe signifies the birth of a significant king.
- Inquiry in Jerusalem: The Magi inquire about the newborn king in Jerusalem, causing King Herod and the city to be troubled. Herod assembles the chief priests and scribes to inquire where the Christ was to be born.
- Prophecy of Bethlehem: The chief priests and scribes refer to the prophecy in the Book of Micah, stating that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. This information is then relayed to the Magi.
- Star Leading to Bethlehem: The Magi follow the star, which leads them to Bethlehem. The star is traditionally known as the Star of Bethlehem. This celestial sign guides the Wise Men to the exact location of Jesus.
- Adoration and Gifts: The Magi find the child Jesus with Mary in Bethlehem and worship him. They present gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—symbolic offerings with spiritual and earthly significance.
- Warning in a Dream: After paying homage to Jesus, the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod and report the location of the child. They depart for their own country by another route.
- Flight to Egypt: In response to the Magi’s warning and Herod’s malevolent intentions, Joseph is also warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt until it is safe to return.
- Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents: Realizing that the Magi had tricked him, Herod orders the massacre of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two—an event known as the Slaughter of the Innocents.
- Return to Nazareth: After Herod’s death, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus return from Egypt and settle in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem, fulfilling another prophecy.
Epiphany is a special day observed in the remembrance of the wise men visiting Jesus Christ. The star of Bethlehem guided them to reach where Jesus was born.
On reaching Israel, the wise men presented gifts to baby Jesus. To mark this event, their elders give the kids gifts on Epiphany.
Another important aspect of Epiphany is that on this day, Jesus Christ was introduced to the world for the first time except for His parents.
Word Cloud for Epiphany Story
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Epiphany Story. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.