Epiphany 6th of January
Many Christians around the world annually celebrate Epiphany on January 6. It is a public holiday in many countries and marks two events in Jesus Christ’s life, according to the Christian Bible. The first event was when the three wise men, or kings, visited infant Jesus. The second event was when St John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
January 6, which is 12 days after Christmas in the Gregorian calendar, marks not only the end of the Christmas holidays but also the start of the Carnival season, which climaxes with Mardi Gras.
Epiphany is commonly known as Three Kings’ Day or the Feast of the Epiphany. It means “manifestation” or “showing forth”. It is also called Theophany (“manifestation of God”), especially by Eastern Christians. Epiphany refers not only to the day itself but to the church season that follows it – a season that has a varied length because it ends when Lent begins, and this depends on the date of Easter.
It commemorates the first two occasions on which Jesus’ divinity, according to Christian belief, was manifested: when the three kings (also known as wise men or Magi) visited infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and when John the Baptist baptized him in the River Jordan. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasize the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.
Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts. It was celebrated since the end of the second century, before the Christmas holiday was established. Like other Christian seasons, the church appropriated Epiphany from an old pagan festival. As early as 1996 BCE, the Egyptians celebrated the winter solstice (which then occurred on January 6) with a tribute to Aeon, the Virgin. It is important to note that the holiday was established prior to the Gregorian calendar’s introduction.
Various paintings, artworks and sketches show the three wise men and Jesus. Some paintings artworks show the three wise men on the way to Bethlehem or adoring baby Jesus. The kings are important because their visit illustrates that Jesus was the king of all kings who came for the Jews and the Gentiles.
The star that guides the wise men to Christ also symbolizes Epiphany, as well as the three gifts they gave to Jesus:
- Gold (fit for a king).
- Frankincense (used to worship at a temple).
- Myrrh (used for embalming, as well as a salve for irritations such as diaper rash).
Many Orthodox churches consider Jesus’ baptism to be the first step towards the crucifixion. The liturgical color for the Epiphany season is white.
Epiphany in Greece is known as Theofania or Fota. The first sanctification of the Epiphany (The Enlightenment) takes place in church on the eve of the holiday. Afterwards, the priest goes from house to house holding a cross and a basil branch. As he walks through each house, he uses the basil to sprinkle (bless) all the areas of the home.
An old custom in Crete , which is almost forgotten today, was the preparation of the fotokoliva (boiled wheat with peas) on the eve of Epiphany. The fotokoliva was eaten by the people, but they also fed it to their livestock, which was believed to insure good health and fortune in the homes.
The big sanctification takes place the following day, January 6, the day of the Epiphany in Greece.
A long procession is formed and follows whatever road that leads to a body of water – the sea, a river or even a reservoir. Up in front of the procession are the cherub icons, followed by the priests dressed in their best holiday splendor, then the VIPs, followed by all the people. In the bigger cities, the procession becomes more elaborate with the addition of music and military contingents.
At the end of the sanctification ceremony a priest throws a cross into the water, thus blessing the waters.
Then, those who dare – mostly the younger people of the village – jump in the usually icy water and compete in retrieving the cross. The one who brings the cross up to the surface will enjoy good luck and health for the entire year.