How is Epiphany traditionally celebrated? When does holy Christian festival start?

Russian Orthodox believers take icy plunge to mark Epiphany

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Each year, millions of Christians celebrate the holy festival of Epiphany – also known as Three Kings’ Day. Depending on where you live, the holiday can be commemorated with parades of decorative floats and people in costume as the kings bearing gifts. So, when does it begin and what festivities does it typically involve?

Epiphany starts on Thursday, January 6, but people will get their celebrations underway from tonight.

January 6 is a special date in the Christmas story as it’s when people celebrate how a star led the Magi – also known as the Three Kings or the Wise Men – to visit the baby Jesus after he had been born.

The term ‘Epiphany’ derives from the Greek word meaning “to reveal”, as it is when the baby Jesus was ‘revealed’ to the world.

Consequently, this is why you might hear people say they’ve had an epiphany after they’ve just realised something.

The date of Epiphany also happens around the time of Twelfth Night.

Falling 12 nights after Christmas, Twelfth Night traditionally signals the end of the Christmas holidays.

In fact, its origins can be traced all the way back to the fourth century.

Depending on when you start counting the 12 days of Christmas, Twelfth Night falls either on January 5 or January 6.

The Church of England’s countdown of the 12 days of Christmas begins on Christmas Day itself.

This means that in 2022, Twelfth Night falls on Wednesday, January 5.

In comparison, the Catholic Church starts counting from Boxing Day, so Twelfth Night falls a day later on Thursday, January 6.

Many Christian followers choose to use Twelfth Night as a guide for when they take their Christmas decorations down.

There are claims it can be bad luck to take these down either before or after this point.

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How do people celebrate Epiphany?

Celebrations for Epiphany vary depending on where you are in the world.

Indeed, this year’s festivities are likely to be subdued due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.

In Spain, parents and their children will often take to the streets to watch colourful parades.

The celebrations commemorate the journey the three wise men are said to have taken to present the baby Jesus with gifts.

Spain and many countries in Latin America traditionally exchange Christmas gifts on Epiphany.

Group swims are also used in some countries as a way of celebrating the holy festival.

People in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece and Russia all swim en masse at Epiphany.

Other traditions include buying cakes known as Roscón in Spain, or Galette des Rois in France.

In Mexico, a cake known as Rosca de Reyes is eaten with a figure of the baby Jesus hidden inside. Whoever finds the figure is then known as Jesus’ godparent for the year.

In Austria, some people write in chalk over their front door as a reminder of the Wise Men that visited the baby Jesus, while in Belgium children often dress as the three wise men and do something similar to trick or treating – singing songs to receive money or sweets.

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