Epiphany or the 12th day of Christmas falls on January 6 and marks the official end to the festivities that mark the Christmas holidays or Christmastide.
Adoration of the Magi - Leonardo da Vinci (about 1481)
According to western church traditions Christmas Time runs from First Vespers
(Evening Prayer) of the Nativity of the Lord up to and including the Sunday after
Epiphany or after January 6 and Ordinary Time begins on the Monday which
follows the Sunday occurring after January 6.
|Adoration of the Magi by El Greco, 1568|
Epiphany is the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and includes the
commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Magi; all of Jesus' childhood events,
up to and including his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist; and even the
miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee.
How this adds up to 12 days of Christmas is symbolic rather than literal or the
ancient archive keepers may be worse at their math than us.
Epiphany image of the Master of Meßkirch, 1538
One of the most evocative tales in the Bible is that of the journey made by the
wise men to Bethlehem. Today, the Three Kings and the Star of Bethlehem are
celebrated in Christmas carols, on greeting cards, and with front-yard light
From just a few lines in the Gospel of Matthew, the popularity of the story and
veneration of the three magi grew over the centuries. The elaborate story that
Johannes : Historia trium regum ([Straßburg] [ca. 1479])
Epiphany is known as Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings' Day). In Mexico crowds gather to taste the Rosca de Reyes (kings' bread). In other countries,
a Jesus figurine is hidden in the bread.
Navideño: Three Kings and Nativities Exhibit
Ten Facts about the Feast of the Epiphany
- The three Kings (Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar) represented Europe, Arabia and Africa respectively.
- Hundreds of years ago, roast lamb was traditionally served at Epiphany in honour of Christ and the three Kings' visit.
- Whoever finds the small statue of a baby Jesus hidden inside their slice of the Rosca de reyes throws a party on Candlemas in February.
- In some European countries, children leave their shoes out the night before to be filled with gifts, while others leave straw for the three Kings' horses.
- According to Greek Orthodox Church's traditions, a priest will bless the waters by throwing a cross into it as worshipers try to retrieve it.
- In Bulgaria too, Eastern Orthodox priests throw a cross in the sea and the men dive in - competing to get to it first.
- In Venice a traditional regatta that started as a joke in the late 70s has been incorporated in the celebrations of Epiphany Day.
- In Prague, there is a traditional Three Kings swim to commemorate Epiphany Day at the Vltava River.
- In New York, El Museo del Barrio has celebrated and promoted the Three Kings' Day tradition with an annual parade for more than three decades. Thousands take part in the procession featuring camels, colorful puppets and floats.
- The day's activities involve singing holiday carols called aguinaldos.