Epiphany: The Three Wise Men and More

We three kings of orient are;
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo - Adoration of the Magi [Public Domain]

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo – Adoration of the Magi [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Most people consider the Christmas season to be over after the gifts have been opened, the wrapping paper has been cleaned up and the tree has been taken down. Many, however, carry on the celebration of Jesus for twelve days after Christmas (the inspiration for the carol). Epiphany, one of the oldest celebrations of Christianity, falls on January 6 and is a commemoration of the trip made by the Three Wise Men to honor Jesus after his birth.

Popular tradition has it that the Magi were three kings who heard a prophecy of the coming Messiah and followed a star to Bethlehem. But, the gospel of Matthew–the only one that mentions the visitors–does not call them kings, nor does it name or even number them. (The story of their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh seems to be the basis for the idea that there were three.) One theory is that the Magi were Zoroastrian Mede priests. While such confusion about the biblical and historical records has even caused some Christians to question the story, the holiday remains an important one.

There is more to the religious significance of Epiphany than just the story of the Magi. In the the Eastern Christian Churches, it represents Jesus’ manifestation on Earth. Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the Magi, his first miracle at the wedding at Cana and his baptism are all commemorated in varying denominations.

Epiphany traditions vary by culture, and here a few: In Spanish and Latin American tradition, Epiphany is celebrated with rosca de reyes (king’s cake), a ringed cake with a baby figure or a bean hidden inside. Russians take an icy dip to symbolize Jesus’ baptism. European countries have multiple traditions involving sweets. Some traditions date back to pagan times, and in Britain, some of them have been making a comeback. Since the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, there is a mix of world traditions and unique ones, such as the blessing of homes and a dive for a cross in a Florida bayou.

This was just a quick rundown of the history and traditions of Epiphany. To really dig into this topic and many others, search eLibrary and follow the links above and below.

Research Topics: Bible, Christmas, Christianity, Zoroastrianism

Subject browse sections (Click on underlined words to widen or narrow the scope and click on “View Results” to see eLibrary resources. Items with stars next to them will display Research Topic pages.): Holidays, Religion



Jim Zelli

Jim Zelli has been with ProQuest since 1989 and with eLibrary since 2004.

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