What Is Epiphany?

Why Is Epiphany Also Known as Three Kings Day and Twelfth Day?

What Is Epiphany?
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Because Epiphany is primarily observed by Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican Christians, many Protestant believers don't understand the spiritual significance behind this holiday, one of earliest feasts of the Christian church.

What Is Epiphany?

Epiphany, also known as "Three Kings Day" and "Twelfth Day," is a Christian holiday commemorated on January 6. It falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the Christmas season.

(The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany are known as the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”)

Though many different cultural and denominational customs are practiced, in general, the feast celebrates the manifestation of God to the world in the form of human flesh through Jesus Christ, his Son.

Epiphany originated in the East. In Eastern Christianity, Epiphany puts emphasis on the baptism of Jesus by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), with Christ revealing himself to the world as God's own Son:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9–11, ESV)

Epiphany was introduced into Western Christianity in the 4th century.

The word epiphany means "appearance," "manifestation," or "revelation" and is commonly linked in Western churches with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child (Matthew 2:1-12). Through the Magi, Jesus Christ revealed himself to the Gentiles:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

... And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.

... And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

On Epiphany some denominations commemorate Jesus' first miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), signifying the manifestation of Christ's divinity as well.

In the early days of church history before Christmas was observed, Christians celebrated both the birth of Jesus and his baptism on Epiphany. The feast of Epiphany proclaims to the world that a child was born. This infant would grow to adulthood and die as the sacrificial lamb. The season of Epiphany extends the message of Christmas by calling believers to manifest the gospel to the whole world.

Unique Cultural Celebrations of Epiphany

Those who were fortunate enough to have grown up in a predominately Greek community like Tarpon Springs, Florida, are probably quite familiar with some of the unique cultural celebrations associated with Epiphany. On this ancient church holiday, large numbers of high school students will skip school each year on Epiphany to see many of their classmates — young men age 16 to18 of the Greek ​Orthodox faith) — dive into the chilly waters of Spring Bayou to retrieve the cherished cross.

The "blessing of waters" and "diving for the cross" ceremonies are long-held traditions in Greek Orthodox communities.

The one young man who has the honor of recovering the crucifix receives a traditional full year's blessing from the church, not to mention a good deal of fame in the community. 

After more than 100 years of celebrating this tradition, the annual Greek Orthodox festival in Tarpon Springs continues to draw large crowds. Unfortunately, many observers do not understand the true meaning behind these Epiphany ceremonies.

Today in Europe, Epiphany celebrations are sometimes just as important as Christmas, with celebrants exchanging gifts on Epiphany instead of Christmas, or on both holidays.  

Epiphany is a feast that recognizes the manifestation of God in Jesus, and of the risen Christ in our world. It is a time for believers to consider how Jesus fulfilled his destiny and how Christians can fulfill their destiny too.