Epiphany (Koine Greek: ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, “manifestation”, “striking appearance”) or Theophany (Ancient Greek (ἡ) Θεοφάνεια, Τheophaneia meaning “vision of God”) is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.
In some Western Christian denominations, especially in the past, and also in the present-day Church of England, the feast of the Epiphany also initiates a liturgical season of Epiphanytide.
The traditional date for the feast is January 6. However, since 1970, the celebration is held in some countries on the Sunday after January 1. Eastern Churches following the Julian Calendar observe the Theophany feast on what for most countries is January 19 because of the 13-day difference today between that calendar and the generally used Gregorian calendar.
In the Church of England, the eve of the feast used to be celebrated as Twelfth Night. The Monday after Epiphany is known as Plough Monday.
There are varying stories about Epiphany and Italy. According to the Roman author Macrobius, and English antiquarian John Brand, the word “Epiphania” was transformed into Befana, the great fair held at that season, when sigillaria of terracotta or baked pastry were sold. In popular folklore, Befana visits the children of parts of Italy on the eve of January 6 to fill their socks with candy and presents if they had been good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they had been bad. In other regions, especially Sicily, the South, and Abruzzo children may look forward instead to a visit from the three Wise Men themselves, a sign of the region’s historical ties to Spain.
Wikipedia contributors, “Epiphany (holiday),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 5, 2015).
“Magi (1)” by Nina-no – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Bartolomé Esteban Murillo – Adoration of the Magi – Google Art Project” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo – JAFwsBSXui7rdg at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.