On January 6, we celebrate the Epiphany, one of the oldest Christian holidays, which also includes folk customs. What exactly does that mean?
The word Epiphany comes from Koine Greek epiphaneia, meaning manifestation or appearance, which refers to the manifestation of the Lord.
How does the word manifestation get here? The holiday connects three cases:
- name-day of the Wise Men (Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar);
- Saint John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River;
- Jesus’ first miracle (the turning of water into wine) at the marriage feast in Cana.
All three events suggest that God manifests as a man among men.
Epiphany is both the beginning and the end. In the Catholic Church, the Christmas celebration lasts until the Sunday following the Epiphany, which is the 10th of January this year. The Epiphany is also the beginning of the Carnival time, which lasts until Ash Wednesday, which is the 17th of February this year, so the Carnival time is 46-day-long this year.
This is also why it is used to take down the Christmas tree at Epiphany, signaling that the holiday is over. If we had plastic pine, we put it away for next year. If it is a potted pine, we plant it in the garden. If none of them, then we throw it away or use it as firewood.
But in the old times, there was not just that one habit. People took the holy water home and watered their animals with it so that they would not be sick during the year, or people sprinkled on themselves against diseases or curse. In some places, the land of the house was also sprinkled with it to be a blessing on the house. Hence the Hungarian name “Water Baptise”.
The houses and the shelters were consecrated with water. Holy water was also sprinkled on the cradle. When consecrating houses, it became customary to engrave the initials of the Three Wise Men name (Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar) on the houses, like this: G + M + B. A priest did the consecration was, and this is related to the collection of soul money.
During the 16th century, star singing became part of the holiday in Central Europe. The star singing custom evoked the visit of the Wise Men of the East; the three figures could only be portrayed by children, and its chief prop was the star, which showed the way to Bethlehem.
In Orthodox families, in memory of the manger of Bethlehem, they scattered straw on the floor of the cleanroom and slept on it. Children went to chant to the house of elderly couples.
The Twelfth Night: Or What You Will is a comedy about Epiphany, adapted from William Shakespeare’s stage play of the same title. Although the writing has made many different TV and cinematic movie adaptation before and after, this comedy from 1996 is still the best known. On the other hand, it has an interesting American remake, She’s the Man from 2006, which has nothing to do with the Epiphany.
This is the meaning of the Epiphany.