What is Epiphany?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2018
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Epiphany is a Christian holiday that is commonly associated with the visit of the Three Kings to baby Christ. It is also the 12th day of Christmas, as popularized by the song. In essence, Christmas does not end for many Christians until Christ is revealed. In some Christian denominations, this holiday does not end until Lent begins.

In some countries, Epiphany is celebrated with more vigor than Christmas. For example, Ireland celebrates Epiphany or Little Christmas by giving wives and mothers a day off from their jobs on the 6th of January. This is particularly popular in Cork, where women often leave the home for the day, while husbands take a turn at caring for the children and doing the housework.

In many Latin American households, children leave out their shoes with bits of hay for the camels ridden by the kings. They often receive gifts on Epiphany, or the Day of the Kings, and it is thought that the gifts are better if one leaves hay for the Kings’ mounts.

The French often celebrate this holiday by eating King’s cake or gâteau des Rois. Often a bean or a small toy is placed in the cake. The person who gets the slice with the hidden item is said to enjoy good luck for the year.


Eastern Orthodox Churches find Epiphany particularly relevant as the revelation of Christ. A church celebration may include the blessing of the waters. The nearest body of water is visited, prayed over, and a crucifix is thrown into the water. If weather conditions permit, swimmers may try to retrieve the cross.

Epiphany is also associated with the appearance of Christ to St. Paul. In this way, it is used in the sense of one having a revelation from the Greek root. Christ’s appearance to Paul radically altered Paul’s life and turned him into a notably avid Christian who worked very hard to convert his brethren.

Some Christians find that Epiphany is the last vestige of the non-commercialized holiday. They prefer to enjoy a Christian celebration that is truly based in religion, and not in retail stores. Many choose to celebrate it with a special gathering of family that does not include gifts, to separate serving “God and Mammon.” Christ explains in his teaching that serving wealth, Mammon, means one cannot devote oneself to God.


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Post 4

The custom of leaving hay in shoes for the camels of the magi reminds me of the tradition of leaving stockings out on Christmas. Maybe there is some pre-christian connection in this custom.

Post 3

It is interesting to note the Eastern Orthodox custom of throwing the crucifix into the water and retrieving it. This seems to symbolize death and resurrection, since in Israel, the sea was seen as symbolic of death and Sheol. Baptism symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ, and the water symbolizes dying to self and being made alive with him.

Post 2


It could have taken 12 days and it also could have been at a completely different time of year. Christmas has been somewhat arbitrarily chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ, and it is unlikely he was born at that time. It is also likely that the Magi did not show up immediately at his birth in Bethlehem, but could have visited him at some later time, the Scripture is not clear on this point. Many Christian holidays have been established as originally syncretistic celebrations dating from earlier pagan holidays.

Post 1

If the wise men traveled from the "east" and then to Jerusalem to see King Herod before traveling south to Bethlehem, wouldn't that have taken more than 12 days?

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