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Epiphany – Its History and Traditions

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Epiphany - Its History and Traditions

Epiphany, also known as Theophany in Eastern Christian traditions, is a Christian holiday that celebrates the appearance of the Christ Child as the Messiah to the Magi, an event recounted in the Gospel of Matthew.

What is the origin of the Epiphany?

According to Christian tradition, three wise men from the East, also known as the “Magi” or “wise men from the East”, followed a star that led them to Bethlehem, where they found the baby Jesus and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This event is seen as a manifestation of Jesus’ divinity and his role as Savior for all people, not just the Jews.

In the Western church, the holiday is traditionally celebrated on January 6, including France, Italy and Spain, and in the Eastern church, it is celebrated on the Sunday following January 1. It also marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the Christian liturgical year.

Epiphany also has pagan roots, dating back to ancient times. It was originally celebrated by ancient peoples to celebrate the winter solstice and the reappearance of the sun after the shortest days of the year. Over time, this festival was adapted and integrated into the Christian tradition, becoming the Epiphany as we know it today.

In some traditions, Epiphany is also associated with the blessing of houses and water blessing ceremonies. In other traditions, it is celebrated as a feast of the galette des rois (King cake), with the tradition of choosing a king or queen from among the participants using a bean (charm) hidden in a galette.

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Epiphany - Its History and Traditions

How is the Epiphany celebrated?

The celebration of the Epiphany varies considerably from country to country. In the northern countries, in Norway (Epiphany is celebrated on January 13 and is known as “Tretten“), in Sweden “Trettondagen“, in Finland “Tapaninpäivä” (St. John’s Day) and in Denmark “Helligtrekongersdag” (Day of the Three Holy Kings), Epiphany is celebrated on January 6. This holiday is considered the end of the Christmas season and is celebrated with gifts, food and music. Traditionally, children dress up as elves and knock on doors to ask for treats.

In southern countries, in Italy “Festa dell’Epifania” (Epiphany), in France and in Spain “Día de los Reyes” (Day of the Kings), this holiday, celebrated on January 6, also marks the end of the Christmas period and is celebrated with gifts, food and music. Traditionally, children dress up as kings and families eat a king’s cake (called “roscón de reyes” in Spanish) filled with frangipane and with a bean hidden inside. Whoever finds the bean in his or her slice of cake becomes the king or queen for the day.

In Latin America, the celebration of Epiphany also varies considerably from country to country. In some countries, the holiday is celebrated in a manner similar to how it is celebrated in Italy and Spain, with gifts, food and music, and by dressing up as kings and eating a king’s cake. In other countries, the holiday is celebrated in a simpler way, with religious celebrations and processions.

Click on this link to read this article in French version.