For most Protestants, Christmas ended Dec. 25 after the last present was opened and the last bite of pie eaten, but for Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, the celebration extends 12 more days into the holy day called Epiphany, celebrated on or near Jan.6.
Epiphany honors Jesus Christ’s manifestation as the divine Messiah.
Epiphany at St. Mark Catholic
Father Roger Arnsparger of St. Mark Catholic explains that for Catholics, Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi, when Jesus Christ was manifested as Messiah to all the nations.
St. Mark held Epiphany Masses on Jan. 5. Catholic Epiphany services often include moving the figures of the Magi into the crib scene and children dressed as the Three Kings bringing gifts to the altar.
Some Catholics throw Epiphany parties where children dressed as kings give out gifts. Some Catholics give little gifts every day during the 12 days of Christmas.
The King cake is also a popular tradition. An almond, a coin or a baby Jesus is baked into the King cake, and the one who discovers the hidden object will be the King in a Mardi Gras celebration. This tradition, of course, is popular in New Orleans.
Arnsparger calls the Jan. 6 celebration “Epiphany proper” because the Catholic Church also uses liturgies for four other epiphanies: the birth of Christ (Dec. 25), the baptism of Christ (January 12), the wedding feast at Cana and the presentation of Christ at the temple (40 days after Christmas).
Epiphany at St. Luke Greek Orthodox
St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church in Mooresville also celebrated Epiphany on Jan. 4, 5 and 6.
The Orthodox Church focuses exclusively on the baptism of Christ at Epiphany, or as they prefer to call it, Theophany. At Christ’s baptism, according to Matthew 3, God revealed that Christ was his son.
Father Robert Lawrence of St. Luke said Theophany emphasizes the sanctification of the waters by Christ's baptism in what he describes as “a sort of 'reverse' baptism where the waters are sanctified by he who is being baptized.”
To prepare for the feast of Theophany, Greek Orthodox parishioners fast from meat, dairy, olive oil and wine. At the end of the Theophany service, they hold a blessing of the waters where they consecrate holy water by submerging a cross in the water three times. That holy water is then sprinkled around the church and on parishioners, who also drink a small sip and receive a small bottle of holy water to take home.
St. Luke participants often go after the liturgical service on Jan. 6 to a nearby body of water, such as Lake Davidson, and throw a cross into the water. The cross will then be retrieved from the water, either by a swimmer or by an attached string.
In the weeks following Theophany, Lawrence will visit parishioners and bless each home with the holy water. This tradition is Lawrence’s favorite part of the tradition.
Epiphany means shocker
Thesaurus.com lists these synonyms for epiphany: insight, realization and shocker. Jesus Christ’ divinity is the shocker that sometimes gets lost at Christmas during the hustle and bustle of December. January’s Epiphany is a quieter day in Christendom to pause and be shocked.