Understanding the Church Seasons: Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany is observed on January 6th.  It goes by other names in various church traditions.  In Hispanic and Latin culture, as well as some places in Europe, it is known as “Three Kings’ Day” (Spanish: el Dia de los Tres Reyes, la Fiesta de Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos.    Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning, “showing forth, appearance, manifestation or revelation.”  On January 6th we recognize the Manifestation, or revelation, of Christ to the Gentiles—the good news that Jesus revealed God to all people. 

Epiphany is the climax of the Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are counted from December 25th until January 5th.  The day before Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, and is sometimes called Twelfth Night, an occasion for feasting in some cultures. In some cultures, the baking of a special King’s Cake is part of the festivities of Epiphany (a King’s Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA). 

The Feast of the Epiphany is followed by the “Sundays after the Epiphany”.  The length of this season of Epiphany varies from four to nine Sundays, depending on the date of Easter for that year.   In 2020 Epiphany will have 7 Sundays, with the Last Sunday after the Epiphany on February 23.  Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins, will be February 26.  Easter will be April 12.  Fun Fact: 2020 is a Leap Year so February will have 29 days this year!

The season of Epiphany has several important Holy Days within it.  The first Sunday after the Epiphany is The Baptism of Our Lord.  January 18th is The Confession of St. Peter; the 25th is the Conversion of St. Paul; and February 2nd is the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (also known as Candlemas; not also known as Groundhog Day!). Some minor feast days are Absalom Jones (Priest) on February 13th and Frederick Douglass on February 20th.

White is the color for the Feast of the Epiphany and the days up to and including the next Sunday, which is the Baptism of our Lord. White is the festival color of the church. Green is the color for the remaining Sundays after Epiphany.  Green represents the ongoing life of the church.

The best-known symbols of Epiphany are the three wise men and the star.  The story of the magi is found only in Matthew (2:1-12).  Magi were people who studied the movement of the stars to interpret their meaning.  They were Gentiles, not Jews.  The single star that the magi followed recalls the manifestation of Christ to the world.