Epiphany in Western Christianity Date in the current year: January 6, 2024

Epiphany in Western Christianity Epiphany, also known as Theophany, Little Christmas, or Three King’s Day, is one of the most important Christian feasts. It celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. The feast is observed on January 6 in most Western Christian denominations.

Both names of the holiday, Epiphany and Theophany, are of Greek origin. The word “epiphany” means appearance or manifestation, while the word “theophany” has a narrower meaning – an appearance of a deity to a human.

The feast of Epiphany is believed to have originated during the early years of Christianity as a feast commemorating the baptism of Jesus. Interestingly, Eastern churches celebrated the Nativity of Jesus on the same day until the feasts of Epiphany and Christmas were formally separated by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

In the present-day Eastern Christianity, the feast of Epiphany commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. In some Orthodox churches, the holiday is widely referred to as the Baptism of the Lord. Western Christians, on the other hand, primarily commemorate the visit of the biblical Magi (the Three Kings) to baby Jesus, marking the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

In Western churches, there is an ancient custom of announcing the date of Easter during the Epiphany liturgy. It dates back to the times when calendars were not available to the majority of population, so the church needed to find a way to publicize the date of Easter and other religious celebrations depending on it. Although there is no need to publicly announce the date of Easter anymore, the tradition remains.

In Western Christianity, the Epiphany Eve, also known as the Twelfth Night, concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas. On this day, some Christians remove the greenery, nativity scenes, and Christmas decorations, although in some cultures, it is customary to wait until Candlemas.

Countries historically shaped by Catholicism or Protestantism have similar Epiphany customs. They include gift giving, eating the so-called “king cakes”, and parades. In some countries, Epiphany is commonly referred to as Three Kings’ Day or the Day of the Kings in honor of the biblical Magi – Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior – who arrived to confirm Jesus as son of God. They include most of Latin America, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, and others.

The gift-giving custom of Epiphany stems from the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that were offered by the Three Magi to baby Jesus. In many countries, children expect to receive gifts from the Three Magi themselves, but there are also other gift-bringing figures. In Italy, for example, gifts are delivered by an old woman called Befana (the name is believed to be a corruption of the word Epifania, i.e. Epiphany).

Epiphany is a public holiday in several countries where Christians make up the majority of population. In Colombia, the public holiday of Epiphany is officially observed on the Monday closest to January 6. Note that some Eastern Christian denominations that use the Julian calendar observe Epiphany on January 19, which is the Julian equivalent of January 6 in the Gregorian calendar.

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