Feast of the Epiphany

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Epiphany, Feast of the

January 6
One of the oldest Christian feasts (celebrated since the end of the second century, before the establishment of the Christmas holiday), Epiphany (which means "manifestation" or "showing forth") is sometimes called Twelfth Day, Three Kings' Day, Día de los Tres Reyes (in Latin America), the Feast of Jordan (by Ukrainian Orthodox), or Old Christmas Day.
It commemorates the first two occasions on which the divinity of Jesus was manifested: when the Three Kings (or Magi) came to worship the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and proclaimed him the Son of God. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasize the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany; the Eastern Orthodox churches focus on the baptism of Jesus. The blessing of lakes, rivers, and seas plays a central role in their celebrations.
In France Le Jour des Rois (the Day of the Kings ), sometimes called the FÉte des Rois, is celebrated with parties for children and adults alike. The highlight of these celebrations is the galette des rois, or "cake of the Kings"—a round, flat cake which is cut in the pantry, covered with a white napkin, and carried into the dining room on a small table. An extra piece is always cut, which is traditionally called le part à Dieu ("God's share") and is reserved for the first poor person who comes to the door.
The youngest person in the room oversees the distribution of the pieces of cake, one of which contains a bean or tiny china doll. The person who finds this token becomes king or queen for the evening. He or she chooses a consort, and for the remainder of the evening, every move the royal couple makes is imitated and commented upon by the other guests, who take great delight in exclaiming, for example, "The King drinks!" or "The Queen coughs!"
In many parts of France, the celebration begins on the evening of January 5 and involves collecting and distributing food and gifts for the poor ( see Epiphany Eve in France).
Now observed by a growing number of Protestants as well as Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Epiphany refers not only to the day itself but to the church season that follows it—a season whose length varies because it ends when Lent begins, and that depends on the date of Easter.
See also Befana Festival; Four an' Twenty Day; Epiphany, Christian Orthodox; Timqat; and Twelfth Night
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Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.