Epiphany: a day of divine revelations

IT’S the Christian feast which marks the end of Christmas, and it’s been celebrated all over the globe for centuries.

But in an increasingly secular world, it’s doubtful how many ordinary UK people on the street in 2023 could actually explain the significance of Epiphany.

WISE MEN: a stained glass portrait of the Magi in the church at Taize

The celebration commemorates the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus and the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

Eastern traditions usually call the holiday Theophany and focus on Jesus’ baptism, seen as the revelation of Christ as both fully human and fully divine.

Western traditions focus on the Magi’s visit, seen as the first manifestation of Christ as saviour of Gentiles as well as Jews.

DIVINE REVELATION: a church window in the Netherlands PICTURE: Paul Zoetemeijer, Unsplash

The feast takes place on the day after Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season, which in the Middle Ages was a period of continuous feasting and merrymaking from Christmas Day until January 5.

Shakespeare used Twelfth Night as the setting for one of his most famous stage plays and today we know it as the last day for decorations to be taken down, although in Elizabethan England, decorations were left up until Candlemas.

BEARING GIFTS: the “three kings” PICTURE: Jonathan Meyer, Unsplash

After Twelfth Night, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God, focusing on the visit by the Three Wise Men “from the east” to worship the king of the jews, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, along with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the wedding at Cana, when Jesus performed his first public miracle.

In the early Church, Christians celebrated all these events, including the nativity, on January 6. It was only in later centuries that both Christmas Day and Epiphany became established as feast days, separated by the 12 days of the Christmas season.

NATIVITY SCENE: Christmas Day changed date PICTURE: Walter Chávez, Unsplash

Many countries celebrate “Three Kings Day” with parades and processions, sweets, cakes and presents, along with baptismal rites, house blessings and special church services.

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