Epiphany Day: January 6
Epiphany is a religious observance for Christians all over the world.
January 6 is the date of the Epiphany Feast for Christians all over the world. It is the celebration of the revelation of God as human in the person of Jesus Christ. Western churches celebrate the visit of the Magi to the newborn Jesus, and Eastern Christians celebrate his baptism as the moment of Christ’s revelation as the son of God.
History of Epiphany
This feast had its origin in the Eastern Christian churches related to the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan. However, it soon became contested by many theologians that disagreed with the date for the celebration of the baptism of Jesus, noting that the Epiphany or manifestation of God could be celebrated under different feasts like the miracle in Cana or the visit of the Magi. Before Christmas existed, the feast of Epiphany was celebrated, and many thought that the birth of Jesus could be celebrated on this day since there was no other day at that time.
But, as the Christian calendar took form in the West, December 25 was the date chosen for Christmas and the Eastern celebration of Epiphany was kept at the beginning of January. Yet there was more significance given to the visit of the Magi for this feast than that of the baptism of Jesus. Both biblical stories demonstrate that Jesus was God who manifested himself to the world through Christ. During the visit of the Magi who come to adore the newborn King of Jews, they met baby Jesus and recognize him as the promised King and therefore an incarnation of God. During the baptism of Jesus at the river Jordan, it is God himself that opened the skies and revealed that Jesus is his son, and also a manifestation of himself. So, both moments are Epiphanies, or manifestations of God through Jesus Christ.
Epiphany Traditions, Customs and Activities
There are many traditions around the world for this day. Usually it is the day that the Christmas season ends and all decorations are taken down from houses. Concerning the Three Kings, or Magi, the traditions revolve around gift giving—just as they brought gifts for Jesus—and eating the King cake, a festive cake that is filled with dried fruits and sweets.
In Spain it is the most important holiday of this season. Spaniards call it El Dia de los Reyes, and it is followed by many South American countries influenced by the colonial presence of Spain in past centuries. On this day, everyone leaves their socks outside the house for the Three Kings to leave gifts. In Mexico children leave letters to the Three Magi asking for toys near the nativity scene that was built for Christmas. In Puerto Rico the same is done but with a box filled with hay.
In other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, or the Philippines, children sing songs from house to house, visiting the newborn baby Jesus at the house of Christian families and they receive candies and gifts. In Ireland it is called the Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas. It is a day for women to be treated as queens. Many years ago when average families were much bigger then today, and men did as much to help around the house as today, this was the day for Irish women to get a break from house work.
As for Eastern Churches, since it is a day that the baptism of Jesus is celebrated, water is the center of celebration and tradition. In Greece there is the Great Blessing of the Waters, where not only boats but also the seas, fishermen, and sailors receive blessings.