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i pif' a nE, n. the celebration of the visit of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem
The last day of the Feast of the Nativity, which in the church calendar continues for twelve days after Christmas, Epiphany (meaning "appearance") commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles through the visit of the Three Wise Men (the Magi) to Bethlehem. In the modern western calendar, the day is celebrated on January 6th; some Greek Orthodox Churches and related traditions that still follow the older calendar celebrate it as the Theophany on January 19th.
Originally a festival of great solemnity (in the Middle Ages the celebration included a play within the church on the coming of the Magi), it gradually became one of fun and frolic when all laid aside their dignity and joined in the revels, and during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the celebrations became so boisterous that the true significance of Christmas was often lost. Such revelry is one of the reasons for the Puritan rejection of Christmas celebrations in general. Epiphany celebrations became more and more subdued after Elizabeth's time.
Traditional customs included the cutting of a Twelfth-Night cake and the lighting of bonfires. A common custom today is the burning of Christmas trees gathered in a central place, with the usual Twelfth-Night ceremonies of cutting the cake and drawing a king who rules over the festivities around the fire that ushers out the holiday season.
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This page was last updated on April 18, 2017.