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Epiphany

EPIPHANY

EPIPHANY. Epiphany (from the Greek word for 'manifestation') is the Christian festival that commemorates the revealing of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world, as personified by those "wise men from the east" who came "to worship him" (Matthew 2:12). In Britain it has another, more prosaic, name, Twelfth Day, because it falls on 6 January, twelve days after Christmas. Over time, the plain gospel account of this momentous encounter became richly embroidered with learned commentary and loving speculation. The "wise men" stepped from the shadows and were deemed to be three in number, each one a mighty king who knelt in turn to pay homage and present his gift to the greatest king of all. The festival formed the end and climax of the Christmas season, marked by a joyful and elaborate church service and much cheerful celebration, with parties and presents, fine feasting, and a favorite game. In this game, played in many parts of medieval Europe, a mock-king was selected to reign over the party, be toasted by loyal subjects, and, sometimes, enjoy the doubtful privilege of paying for the wine downed in his honor. He was chosen not on merit but by the chance that was hinted at in his official title, "King of the Bean." A bean had been hidden in a cake, and the lucky man who found it became king of the company. The woman who pulled out the corresponding pea was hailed as his queen.

This traditional game remained popular, but in Britain a variation was developed during the late seventeenth century. Guests still enjoyed their cake, which was dark, dense, packed with dried fruit, and often crowned with almond paste and white icing. However, instead of choosing their king and queen by bean and pea, they drew paper lots. The new custom became a craze, and was elaborated until every slip or card bore the name of some character. Each person present thus had a part to play, and the monarchs mingled with such farcical figures as Sir Tunbelly Clumsy and Miss Flirt, Captain Tearaway, and Lady Racket. The character cards might be homemade or bought at any bakery or toy shop during the Christmas season.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Twelfth Night cake and characters were enormously enjoyed, so much so that the custom found its way to those parts of America, such as Virginia, that were strongly influenced by British taste.

But the fashion that flared so brightly for a while had burned itself out by the end of the nineteenth century. Twelfth Day became just an ordinary date in the British calendar, and its cake was absorbed into the Christmas Day festivities. In France, however, and, incidentally, in Louisiana, where French traditions are strong, the Bean King still reigns. Bakery windows display tempting versions of the "Galette des Rois," made of sweet brioche or puff pastry, and in each a bean or, alternatively, a tiny porcelain baby Jesus, is concealed, a guarantee of instant pleasure for children.

See also Christianity; Christmas; Christmas Drinks; Easter; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts; Lent; Shrove Tuesday .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bauman, James. "Les Galettes des Rois: The Eating of Fine Art." Petits Propos Culinaires 27 (October 1987): 716.

Belden, Louise Conway. The Festive Tradition: Table Decoration and Desserts in America, 1650-1900. New York: W. W. Norton, 1983.

Chambers, Robert, ed. The Book of Days. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Entry on 6 January, Twelfth Day.

Edwards, Gillian. Hogmanay and Tiffany: The Names of Feasts and Fasts. London: Geoffrey Bles, Ltd., 1970.

Hadfield, Miles and John Hadfield. The Twelve Days of Christmas. London: Cassell, 1961; Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.

Henisch, Bridget Ann. Cakes and Characters: An English Christmas Tradition. London: Prospect Books, 1984.

Hone, William. The World of William Hone: A New Look at the Romantic Age in Words and Pictures of the Day. Compiled, introduced, and annotated by John Wardroper. London: Shelfmark Books, 1997.

Miles, Clement A. Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance (1912), reissued New York: Dover, 1976.

Saint-Ange, Mme. E. Le Livre de Cuisine. Paris: Larousse, 1927.

Bridget Ann Henisch

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Epiphany

Epiphany (ĬpĬf´ənē) [Gr.,=showing], a prime Christian feast, celebrated Jan. 6, called also Twelfth Day or Little Christmas. Its eve is Twelfth Night. It commemorates three events—the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1), the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem (Mat. 2), and the miracle at Cana (John 2). In his baptism Jesus' sonship to God was manifested to the world; in the visit of the Wise Men he was manifested as king to the Gentiles; and at the marriage feast at Cana his power to perform miracles (a divine prerogative) was shown. In popular celebration the feast is far more ancient than Christmas. Technically it is more important than Christmas, ranking after Easter and Pentecost. It is a day of gifts in many countries. In the Eastern Church the waters are blessed on this day. The word epiphany means a manifestation, usually of divine power. Thus the actual appearance of God (as in the burning bush) or a moment of divine revelation may be called an epiphany.

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epiphany

e·piph·a·ny / iˈpifənē/ • n. (pl. -nies) (also E·piph·a·ny) the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12). ∎  the festival commemorating this on January 6. ∎  a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being. ∎  a moment of sudden revelation or insight. DERIVATIVES: ep·i·phan·ic / ˌepəˈfanik/ adj.

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Epiphany

Epiphany (Gk., epiphaneia, ‘manifestation’). An appearance of a divine or superhuman being. In Christian use it refers specifically to a feast celebrated on 6 Jan. It originated in the E., where it celebrated the baptism of Jesus and, at least in a secondary way, his birth. Epiphany spread to the W. Church in the 4th cent., but here it became associated with the ‘manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles’ in the person of the Magi of Matthew 2. 1–12.

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epiphany

epiphany Christian feast celebrated on January 6. It originated in the Eastern Church as an observance of the baptism of Jesus. In the West, it became associated with the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles and more particularly it has come to celebrate the coming of the Magi (Three Wise Men).

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epiphany

epiphany manifestation of a supernatural being. XVII. — Gr. epipháneia manifestation, appearance of a divinity, f. epiphanḗs manifest, epiphaínein (see prec.).

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Epiphany

Epiphany (feast of) the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. XIII. — (O)F. épiphanie, — ecclL. epiphania — ecclGr. epiphánia n. pl. of *epiphánios, f. epiphaínein manifest, f. EPI- + phaínein show; see -Y3

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epiphany

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Epiphany

EPIPHANY

EPIPHANY is the Christian feast of the manifestation of Jesus Christ. Traditionally celebrated on January 6; it is also celebrated by the Roman rite in some places on the Sunday following the octave of Christmas. The feast is called Epiphania ("manifestation") among Western Christians and Theophaneia ("manifestation of God") among Eastern Christians. That the feast is of Eastern origin is indicated by the Greek origin of both names. Epiphany is one of the twelve major feasts of the Orthodox church year.

The origins of Epiphany are obscure and much debated. It was originally either a feast of Christ's baptism in the Jordan or of his birth at Bethlehem. The theory that the date of January 6 corresponded to an old date for the Egyptian winter solstice has been largely discredited. The date may have at first been observed as a feast of the baptism of Christ among the second-century Basilidian gnostics. In the fourth century it was certainly a feast of the nativity of Christ, celebrated with an octave, or eight days of celebration, at Bethlehem and all the holy places of Jerusalem.

At the end of the fourth century, when the Western feast of the nativity of Christ came to be observed in the East on December 25, January 6 came to be widely celebrated as the feast of Christ's baptism, although among the Armenians Epiphany is the only nativity feast celebrated to this day. As the feast of Christ's baptism, Epiphany became for Eastern Christians a major baptismal day, and hence it was given the Greek name Ta Phota ("the lights"); baptism itself was called photismos ("enlightenment").

At the same time as the East was accepting the Western Christmas, the Feast of Epiphany was being adopted in the West. Outside of Rome it was celebrated as the Feast of the Three Miracles, comprising the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Christ, and the miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. In Rome, however, the feast concentrated solely on the visit of the Magi, connoting Christ's manifestation to the Gentiles. With their adoption of the Roman liturgy all other Western Christians eventually came to observe Epiphany as the Feast of the Magi.

Among Eastern Christians the celebration of Epiphany is notable for several reasons. At Alexandria the patriarch would solemnly announce the date of Easter for the current year on January 6. Throughout the East, Epiphany, together with Easter, was a special day for performing baptisms. The most enduring custom, however, has been the blessing of the waters on Epiphany. There are two blessings. The first takes place during the vigil of Epiphany in the evening and is followed by the priest's sprinkling of the town or village with the blessed water. The second blessing takes place on the day of Epiphany itself, when the local waters of stream, lake, or sea are blessed by having a cross thrown into them, after which young men dive into the waters to retrieve it.

The Western observance of Epiphany has centered on the figures of the Magi, popularly called the Three Kings. Their cult was especially strong at Cologne in the Middle Ages, for their supposed relics had been brought there in the twelfth century. The idea that the Magi were kings was derived from several verses of scripture (Ps. 71:10, Is. 60:36). The tradition that there were three of them was probably derived from the number of gifts mentioned in the biblical account of their visit (Mt. 2:112). The account of the visit of the Magi and of the miraculous star that guided them inspired several mystery plays during the Middle Ages. The story of their visit also gave rise to the custom of gift giving on Epiphany: In Italy gifts are given on that day by an old woman named Befana, and the feast is also an occasion for gift giving in Spanish cultures.

See Also

Baptism; Gift Giving.

Bibliography

For a survey of the development of Epiphany and associated customs, see Francis X. Weiser's Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York, 1958). For a view of Epiphany from the perspective of the history of religions, see E. O. James's Seasonal Feasts and Festivals (New York, 1961). For Greek customs associated with Epiphany, see George A. Megas's Greek Calendar Customs, 2d ed. (Athens, 1963).

John F. Baldovin (1987)

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Epiphany

Epiphany

The feast of the Epiphany (a word meaning "manifestation" and particularly used in antiquity to connote the public manifestation of a deity) is an ancient Christian festival, observed in all the major traditions on January 6. The early Eastern Christian festival (also called the Feast of Lights or Theophany) correlated Jesus' Nativity with the concept of his divine "appearance" and "announcement" among humankind: Angels proclaimed his Epiphany to the shepherds and the Magi, and the voice of God from Heaven declared his Epiphany at his baptism, thus inaugurating his public ministry of salvation (Matthew 3:17). The connection of Nativity and baptism was thus very ancient. In the fourth-century East, the feast was a major occasion for the solemn administering of the sacrament of baptism to catechumens.

In the Western church, by the third century c.e. the celebration of the Nativity on December 25 had already been established, but by the end of the following century we begin to see a crossing over of liturgical influences, with the mutual observance of two feasts: the East adopting December 25 as well, and the West adopting Epiphany. In the Western approach to Epiphany, however, elements relating to the Nativity were minimally represented, as the major focus was on three principal occasions of Jesus' Epiphany to the wider world: his baptism in the Jordan River; his revelation to the Gentiles (for so the Magi were transmuted into foreign "kings"); and his manifestation to the disciples at the wedding feast of Cana (when they "saw" his glory).

The current forms of the Christian liturgy of Epiphany still reflect this diverse historical background. In modern America the currents of both traditions have been brought together in a creative mix, not the least from the large influx of Eastern European and Slav Christians, whose popular ceremonies mingled with those of Italian and other western Mediterranean forms of Catholicity. Eastern Orthodox practice now marks Christ's baptism on January 6 with elaborate ceremonies of the "Blessing of the Water." The entrance into the Jordan by Christ symbolizes the purification of all material elements by the physical advent of the Savior. Orthodox Christians drink blessed water on that day, and it is taken home in large amounts for future use. Houses are also blessed by the priests in the week following the feast. In Greece there are large festivals: Boats and nets are blessed; even the sea itself. The village priest throws a blessing cross into the waves, and young men dive to retrieve it. In Greek-American parishes, usually with a dearth of skilled sponge-divers, the clergy take the wise precaution of attaching a line to the cross with which to retrieve it after it has been thrown into local sea or lake waters.

Eastern Christian practice was to associate this day with the giving of gifts to celebrate the Nativity. This was also a feature of many Mediterranean forms of Catholicism. In America and elsewhere, the economic and secular pressures attendant on December 25 are clearly pushing this custom aside. In Catholic custom, the crib often found in houses as well as churches during the Christmas season is "completed" on Epiphany day with the arrival into it of the wise men or kings. In some places (this is especially true for northern Italians) processions of the Magi are elaborately staged in the streets. It is often mistakenly thought that Russians celebrate Christmas on January 6. This is not so, but rather a reflection of the fact that many Russian Orthodox in America still observe the older Julian calendar, which is thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar. The Armenian Church, however, does retain the feast of January 6 as its primary liturgical celebration of Christ's Nativity. The West has also marked the feast as its "Twelfth Night" on which Christmas festivities would be terminated and decorations removed from houses.


See alsoBaptism; Eastern Orthodoxy; Roman Catholicism; Salvation.

Bibliography

Bainton, R. H. "The Origins of the Epiphany." In Collected Papers in Church History, vol. 1. 1962.

Botte, B. Les Origines de la Noël et de l'Epiphanie. 1932.

Cobb, P. G. "The History of the Christian Year." In TheStudy of Liturgy, edited by E. C. Jones and G. Wainwright. 1978.

John Anthony McGuckin

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Epiphany

EPIPHANY

Christian holiday, celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas, commemorating the recognition by the Three Wise Men (Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar) of the Messiah in Jesus.

SEE ALSO Jesus; Messiah.

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