Quick! What the Hell is Epiphany?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | January 7, 2013 | 2 comments

OK, y’all, I have to apologize. First, I’ve been traveling without my laptop for the last week and haven’t been able to update. Second, I’ve been really busy finishing up my book (!!) which has pushed the blog to the back burner lately. Case in point: My somewhat ill-thought-out previous blog post. Hopefully most of you got the gist of what I was trying to say, but if you didn’t, you can be sure you weren’t alone.

That said, today is a new day, a new week and a new year! And there’s been a new holiday, too: Epiphany! It’s not a major holiday (which is why I knew almost nothing about it), but it’s worth noting if only to understand this fabulous array of photographs published by the Guardian this weekend.

ukraine-epiphany-2010-1-19-18-44-35

Holiday: Epiphany

AKA: Theophany

Religion Represented: Christianity

Date: Jan. 6 (And/or on the Sunday that falls between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8)

Celebrates: The manifestation of God as a human being (Jesus).

On a Scale of 1 to 10: The importance of Epiphany varies by country. I’m guessing it ranks about a 2 here in the United States, but as high as a 6 or 7 in some other regions of the world, most of them in Eastern countries. (But if anyone knows better, let me know!)

Star of the Show: Jesus (always Jesus!) but also the Magi (AKA “The Three Kings”)

Background: Epiphany, which was first observed somewhere in the 4th Century, is a general celebration of Jesus as the incarnation of God. As such, it commemorates the birth of Jesus, his visit from the three Magi, all the events of his childhood, his baptism in the Jordan River, and his first miracle (turning water into wine).

Interesting Part: Despite the broad meaning behind Epiphany, most countries focus on only two narrow aspects of Jesus’ life: The arrival of the three Magi (preferred by Western churches) and Jesus’ baptism (preferred by Eastern churches).

Associated Literary Passages: Matthew 2:1-12; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:22; John 2:1-11.

How Its Celebrated: Look at these 11 Guardian photos to get a visual. Epiphany celebrants sing carols, put on nativity plays and hold parades. Many churches hold baptisms, or bless homes or entire bodies of water. In countries that focus on Jesus’ baptism, water plays a central role. In Hungary, people dive into icy water. In Bulgaria, they dance and sing in it. (All these people are crazy.) Countries that focus on the visits of the Magi sometimes treat Epiphany as a mini-Christmas celebration. The Magi are said to visit in the night (ala Santa Claus) and bring presents for children. A Spanish woman I follow on Instagram photographed her daughters leaving wine for the Magi and milk for their camels, and then placing their little shoes where they wanted the Magi to leave their gifts. How cute is that?

Fun Fact: The Magi have names. They are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar

Conveying Meaning to Kids: Use the holiday to teach kids the lingo! Epiphany, Baptism and Magi are all great words (and culturally important words!) with decidedly Christian roots.


another-good-argument-for-infant-baptism-5Epiphany:
Kids are likely to hear people talk about epiphanies a lot in their lives — I use the word all the time! — so why not take a few minutes to explain the secular meaning of epiphany (a sudden realization or insight into something) alongside the religious one (the sudden appearance of a deity)?

574 lizbeth zwergerBaptism: Let your kids know that many Christians get baptized to show their devotion to God, and Christian parents often baptize their children because they hope and expect that their children will worship the same God. People who are baptized can be standing, sitting or kneeling. They may be inside a church or out in nature. They may be completely submersed in the water, or water may be sprinkled on their heads. There are lots of ways to be baptized, but all of them carry the same basic purpose and meaning.

magiMagi: The three Magi in Christianity are also known as the three wise men and as the three kings. They were thought to be astrologers and gentiles (that is, they were not Jewish). Almost any nativity book will include the Magi, and your library is probably full of them. (books, not Magi.) Oh, and don’t forget to read O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi! Here’s a great version for kids.

For other Holiday Cheat Sheets, click here.

 

 


2 comments

  1. Derek Cramer says:

    I had never heard of epiphany as a holiday before this year, but our (very catholic) neighbors invited us to a party. It was a lot of fun, with tons of kids running around and lots (and lots!) of beer.

    The party was mostly just a way to hang out and talk, there were not any real ceremonies or rituals. We fit right in.

  2. Melissa Romo says:

    That’s a helpful rundown, Wendy, thanks. My husband is a Spaniard (I’m the reason he lives in the U.S., but I wish he were the reason we lived on the coast of the Mediterranean. Alas…) “Los Reyes Magos” (The Three Kings) is so important to his family in Spain that Christmas/Santa is barely celebrated. All the shops in his hometown of Zaragoza advertise “Los Reyes” as the reason to buy a gift and celebrate the season. His family observes it as your Instagram friend does, by putting out wine, milk and shoes for the gifts. My American traditions lean heavily toward Santa and Christmas, so we’ve had to figure out how to differentiate between Santa coming and the Kings coming, but still incorporate the observance of both in our kids’ lives. The kids get a big load (not crazy, but a nice spread) for when Santa comes because he has a sleigh. We also explain to them how important the birth was, hence a bit more on the gift side. When the Kings arrive, they get only one present because the Kings travel on camels. We also do two things in our Nativity scene to mark each day: on Christmas morning we place the baby Jesus in the manger, and on the Epiphany, we place the Kings and their camels there with the baby. It helps them understand the two events and how they relate to each other.

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