Christians from Eastern and Western traditions will be feasting on “king’s cake,” diving into icy waters, exchanging gifts and visiting pilgrimage sites to commemorate the Feast of Epiphany on Jan. 6. For Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestant Christians, the holiday celebrates the revelation that Jesus Christ was born. In the Eastern Orthodox traditions, Epiphany marks the day when Christ was baptized in the Jordan River -- a moment that is more important than Christmas.
Also known as Theophany, Three Kings Day and El Dia de los Tres Reyes, Christians around the world celebrate the day (which marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas) in various ways.
Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Tuesday with a homily about the three wise men in the story outlined in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12. The wise men, known as the Magi, gave gifts to baby Jesus after they recognized his divine nature.
“The wise men,” Francis said, “are models of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendor of power.”
In Italy, the day is known as La Befana, and it is a public holiday, with schools and most businesses being closed, although many stores are open with post-Christmas sales in full swing. The night before La Befana, children hang stockings by their windows and fireplaces with the hope that they will be filled with gifts in the morning. These are not given by the traditional Santa Claus but by an old soot-covered woman named Befana.
According to an Italian legend dating to the 13th century, Befana was approached by the three wise men while on their way to see baby Jesus and was asked to lead them to the site. She initially refused but later had a change of heart. While she followed the star of the Magi, she never found the manger. To this day, she continues to travel the world on a broomstick with a bag full of gifts to search each house for Christ.
To commemorate the story, some Italian treats on La Befana include making sweet coal, little brook cookies and Befana cake -- a cake with a dried bean inside to represent baby Jesus.
In Spain, an Epiphany parade was held in Madrid. Considered the country’s largest annual procession, 1.2 tons of candy was distributed to children watching the parade. The celebration took place Monday, on the eve of the Feast of Epiphany. In Barcelona, three men dressed as the Magi, arrived by boat into the city’s port. They were given a key to the city by the mayor and then led a parade, France24 reports.
In Jordan, thousands of pilgrims are expected to visit the site where Jesus was baptized. Located along the Jordan River, the archeological site is surrounded by churches. Last year, Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians gathered for their respective worship services on Epiphany before being immersed in water.
Other believers claim that a separate site located in Israel represents the exact location where Christ was baptized. Some scholars, however, posit that the Jordan site is a more accurate location; in May, Pope Francis lent credibility to this argument when he visited the Jordanian site.
According to the Israeli Tourism Ministry, the Israeli site, known as Qasr el Yahud, is “the traditional spot where the New Testament narrative of the baptism of Jesus took place.” The site is considered the third holiest site for Christian pilgrims after the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
One of the largest Epiphany celebrations in the western hemisphere takes place in Tarpon Springs, Florida. The town, located near Tampa Bay, has the largest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. This year, an estimated 20,000 people will gather in the town to watch the annual cross dive -- an event that has taken place since 1906. After church services, the congregation and participants walk to the Spring Bayou where a wooden cross is tossed into the water. The young man who retrieves it is expected to bring blessings to his family for the year to come.
In New York City, an annual Three Kings Day Parade has been held for 38 years. The event’s founder, Jack Agüeros, will be remembered at this year’s event. He died in May. Other parades will be held in Miami, Boston, Chicago and Cary, North Carolina.
Here’s a sample of how other communities are celebrating the Feast of Epiphany:
— AFP Photo Department (@AFPphoto) January 6, 2015
— Tamer (@Tamermaster) January 6, 2015
— Cihan News (@Cihan_News) January 6, 2015
Roscon de Reyes. a traditional cake on Epiphany day the Three Kings day! pic.twitter.com/ogWWWSfsnU
— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) January 5, 2015
— The Florentine (@TheFlorentine) January 4, 2015
For me, #Epiphany is the great feast of Christmas—gentiles welcomed into the ppl of God, Christ is baptized & water becomes wine at Cana.
— Sr CatherineWybourne (@Digitalnun) January 4, 2015
— TBO.com (@TBOcom) January 6, 2015
— Tuscanycious (@Tuscanycious) January 6, 2015
— Visit France (@UK_Franceguide) January 6, 2015
— Jeff Titelius (@JeffTitelius) January 5, 2015
— Alamy News (@AlamyNews) January 6, 2015
— Tom D'Arcy (@TomGJDArcy) January 6, 2015