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Epiphany — a celebration of the three kings

 

(Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

Epiphany, also called Three Kings' Day, Twelfth Day and Little Christmas, is a Christian holiday typically celebrated on January 6.

For some Christians, the feast celebrates the visit of the three kings — also known as the Magi or the Wise Men.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the three men “from the east” followed a star across the desert to Bethlehem to meet the Baby Jesus and give him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

For other Christians, Epiphany is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus.

 

Pope Francis kissing statue of baby Jesus.

Pope Francis kisses a baby Jesus statue during Epiphany mass at the Vatican. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

For many, it is a celebration of both, as epiphany means “revelation.” Both the visit of the Wise Men and his baptism “revealed” Jesus to be very important.

 

Ethiopian Orthodox clergy celebrate Epiphany called Timket.

In Ethiopia, the "Timkat" festival, the Christian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany, celebrates Jesus's baptism in the Jordan River. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)


How is it celebrated?

Epiphany is celebrated in many different ways by Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians all around the world.

But before we list all the ways Epiphany is observed, please keep in mind that this year's celebrations will undergo some changes due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Men dressed as

"La Befana" is an imaginary old woman who brings gifts to children of Italy on the eve of Epiphany. (Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

In Italy, La Befana is a national holiday so public offices and schools are closed. This year it also happens to be the last 'red zone' day during Italy's lockdown.   

Festival of the three magic kings

In Spain they throw a big festival called Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes Mages or Festival of the Three Magic Kings.

Children receive most of their Christmas presents on this day — delivered by the three kings, of course.

Kids wait for presents and sweets thrown to them by the Wise Men in the Epiphany parade in Spain.

Candy and presents are tossed to kids by the Wise Men during the annual Epiphany parade in Spain. (Jon Nazca/Reuters)

This year many regions have cancelled the traditional parade. But the three kings will still arrive! In some areas they will be in solo balloon rides, convertible cars and virtual horseback riding. There won't be any candy throwing into the crowds since physical distancing guidelines will be in effect.

And for those that decide to stay at home will see the Magi through video conferencing events, YouTube streams and television broadcasts.

Little wise men

Kids in Poland dressed up as shepherds in the annual Epiphany parade.

In Poland, kids attend the Epiphany street parade that will feature singing and reenactments of the Nativity scene. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

Carol singing is a popular Epiphany tradition in both Poland and Portugal and Belgium. Children dress up as the wise men and go singing door-to-door for money or sweets — kind of like trick-or-treating!

Restrictions on mass gatherings will impact this year's event.

A cross in the sea

Man retrieves cross from water and kisses it during Epiphany.

In Greece it's considered a special blessing if you retrieve the cross from the water during Epiphany. (Murad Sezer/Getty Images)

In Greek and Eastern Orthodox traditions, a priest will bless the waters by throwing a cross into the sea — whoever recovers it receives a special blessing from the church.

A Greek Orthodox community in Florida has set a limit on religious clergy and cross divers for this event. They have also encouraged the public to say home and stream the blessing in the safety of their homes. Mask wearing and physical distancing measures will be followed for those who do attend.


Are there any traditional foods?

Mexican kids wait for a piece of 'Rosca de Reyes' Epiphany bread.

Kids wait for a piece of traditional 'Rosca de Reyes' — Epiphany bread — in Mexico City. (Alfredo Estrella/Stringer/Getty Images)

In Spain, Mexico and France you might go to the local bakers and buy a special cake with a figure of a king, Baby Jesus or a toy crown baked inside.

 

Pastry chef completes 'Roscon de Reyes' — Epiphany bread in Spain.

A pastry chef prepares 'Roscon de Reyes' — Epiphany bread — in Spain. (Victor Fraille/Reuters) 

If you get the slice with the figure inside, it will bring good luck for the coming year.