What is Epiphany?

After twelve days of Christmas celebration comes the Epiphany, the feast day when the church celebrates the coming of the three kings to Bethlehem. The word “epiphany” means manifestation or appearance like the star that the wise people saw in the sky, a sign that a king was born. Although in the US, we celebrate Epiphany in church, in Latin American and Eastern European culture, Epiphany is more important even than Christmas. In these cultures, Epiphany is the time for gifts, often three from each of the wise people. In Latin American countries, they bake a special cake called Rosca de Reyes with a doll inside; the person who finds it has to give a party on Candlemas, February 2. In the Orthodox church where Epiphany is later because of the Julian calendar, Epiphany proper is also the day of the Baptism of our Lord. This feast often culminates in the priest casting a cross into the nearest body of water with everyone in a mad rush to swim and find it first and therefore to receive a special blessing (ex: Tarpon Springs, FL). Other fun Epiphany customs include chalking the door (for 2019 it would like 20+C+M+B+19 with the C,M,&B standing in for both the traditional names of the three kings and the blessing Christus mansionem benedicat, May Christ bless this house), star shaped cookies, and Epiphany pageants.

But Epiphany is not just a day; in the Episcopal Church it’s also a season. The color is green, the other half of the long green growing season after Pentecost. Epiphany lasts until Ash Wednesday, and because that date varies, so does the length of Epiphany. Epiphany is a time when we learn about and remember the manifestation of Jesus and his ministry on the earth. Beginning with the Baptism of our Lord on the Sunday after the Epiphany and continuing on until the Transfiguration of our Lord (the Sunday before Ash Wednesday), the church strives during Epiphany to live into the mystery of baptism and Jesus as light for all nations. It is a joyful season, one where we continue to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation, “God in man made manifest.”

Molly Bosscher is the Associate Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA.