About the Feast of Epiphany:
We’ve all heard of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Many non-Christians don’t realize that we actually do celebrate 12 days of the Christmas season (you wouldn’t know it as you look at all the discarded Christmas trees out by the curb on the 26th of December). Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas because of the belief that was the amount of time it took after the birth of Jesus for the magi, or wise men, to travel to Bethlehem where they recognized Him as the son of God.
There is no Biblical reference as to the origin of their journey or how long it took to reach Bethlehem….or even as to how many Magi there were. All we know is that they were “from the East”.
The tradition of three Magi developed since three gifts were offered: Gold, Frankincense (incense), Myhrr.
The early Christian scholar Origen of Alexandria, also known as Origen Adamantius, noted in Contra Celsum that the three gifts had a spiritual meaning: : “gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God.”
Here is an interesting article written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker concerning the origin of the three kings story.
Celebrating Epiphany around the world:
In some countries Epiphany has an interesting tradition. Here are a few of them.
France: where you might eat a ‘Galette des Rois’, a type of flat almond cake.
It has a toy crown cooked inside it and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.
Italy: Befana, the good broomstick-riding witch, visits children on Epiphany, bringing sweets and presents.
Mexico: where Epiphany is known as ‘El Dia de los Reyes’ (the day of The Three Kings). It’s traditional to eat a special cake called ‘Rosca de Reyes’ (Three Kings Cake). A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the ‘Godparent’ of Jesus for that year.
Poland: sees hundreds of Epiphany parades taking place through the streets of towns and cities across the country. Along with the Three Kings, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, the parades include figures of demons and angels.
Spain: Epiphany is also known as The festival of the three Magic Kings (Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages), and is when Spanish Catholic children receive their presents – as they are delivered by the Three Kings! Children leave shoes outside the door on the night of the 5th to be filled with gifts.
On Epiphany you might enjoy a special pastry called a ‘Roscón’ (meaning a ring shaped roll). They are normally filled with cream or chocolate and are decorated with a paper crown.
Note: Epiphany is celebrated on January 19th in Orthodox Church since they celebrate Christmas on January 7th.