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What is the meaning of Epiphany? 10 facts about Twelfth Night and Three Kings’ Day

Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, is the 12th day of Christmas, with today, January 6, marking the official end to the festive season for many Christians.

These days, Brits tend to associate Twelfth Night with removing Christmas decorations because according to tradition, anyone who forgets to take them down by the night before Epiphany must leave them in place all year to avoid misfortune.

However, up until the 19th century, the Epiphany was more important than Christmas Day, and it was used to celebrate both the three kings’ (or three wise men’s) visit to Jesus shortly after his birth and also Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.

Pope Francis leads the Epiphany mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2015

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AFP/Getty

In the West, Christians began celebrating the Epiphany in the 4th century, associating it with the visit of the Magi (the three kings) to Bethlehem.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the three wise men – named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – followed the star of Bethlehem across the desert to meet the baby Jesus, offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The gifts were symbolic of the importance of Jesus’ birth, the gold representing his royal standing; frankincense his divine birth; and myrrh his mortality.

Did you know?

The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from Greek and means ‘manifestation’. It celebrates ‘the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ’. The six Sundays which follow Epiphany are known as the time of manifestation.

A Greek Orthodox swimmer kisses the wooden cross he retrieved from the Bosphorus river’s Golden Horn after a mass as part of celebrations of the Epiphany day

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Getty Images

When is the Epiphany celebrated?

For many Protestant churches, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6 until Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The last Sunday of the Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday.

Others, including the Catholic church, observe Epiphany as a single day. Some Catholic dioceses in the US mark the Epiphany feast on the Sunday after January 6.

Orthodox Christians, however, celebrate the holiday on January 19 each year.

Men dressed as the Wise Men are seen during Epiphany celebrations in a church in San Salvador in 2011  

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AFP/Getty  

Festivities for the ancient Christian feast day vary around the world, from swimming in icy waters to exchanging presents, fireworks and parades. In many countries the day is a public holiday.

In the Spanish speaking world, 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.

As recently as the 1950s, Twelfth Night in Britain was a night for wassailing. Wassailers, like carol singers, go from house to house singing and wishing their neighbours good health. 

The Drury Lane Theatre in London has had a tradition since 1795 of providing a Twelfth Night cake. The will of Robert Baddeley made a bequest of £100 to provide cake and punch every year for the company in residence at the theatre on 6 January. The tradition still continues. 

Members of the Leominster Morris lead the crowd from the Hobson Brewery in Frith Common to the nearby apple orchard to take part in a torchlit Oldfields Orchard Cider wassailing ceremony ahead of Twelfth Night near Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire

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Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Ten facts about the Feast of the Epiphany

  1. The three Kings (Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar) represented Europe, Arabia and Africa respectively.
  2. Hundreds of years ago, roast lamb was traditionally served at Epiphany in honour of Christ and the three Kings’ visit.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. According to Greek Orthodox Church’s traditions, a priest will bless the waters by throwing a cross into it as worshippers try to retrieve it.
  6. In Bulgaria too, Eastern Orthodox priests throw a cross in the sea and the men dive in – competing to get to it first.
  7. In Venice a traditional regatta that started as a joke in the late 1970s has been incorporated in the celebrations of Epiphany Day.
  8. In Prague, there is a traditional Three Kings swim to commemorate Epiphany Day at the Vltava River.
  9. 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.
  10. The day’s activities involve singing holiday carols called aguinaldos.

Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-is-the-meaning-of-epiphany-and-when-is-it/

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