As we prepare for finals over the next few weeks, there is a light down the road that brightens our paths, the same light that lit the way for the Magi to approach Bethlehem. This light is the light of Christ as he comes into the world; we know the familiar images of shepherds, kings, and angels that come to worship him. Celebrated on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany commemorates different things, depending on which branch of Christianity you belong to. It’s one of the oldest feasts celebrated in the Christian tradition, and predates the celebration of Christmas. Originally (and still today, in some Eastern Catholic and Orthodox traditions), the feast of the Epiphany celebrated four different events: the Nativity, the adoration of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, and the first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Most Catholics think of the Epiphany as referring to the second event, the arrival of the Magi. All four of these events are revelations of God to man; I like to think of them as each revealing a different part about Jesus’ character as fully human and fully divine. That’s what Epiphany means, after all: a revelation.
With each event, Jesus’ circle grows wider and he is made known to more and more people. In the Nativity, Jesus is revealed to his parents and the surrounding angels and shepherds; the Adoration, he is revealed to be kinglier than the best kings who betray Herod and all other Gentiles; at his Baptism (also called the Theophany), he is revealed to be the Beloved Son of God; and at Cana, He reveals that he is starting his ministry with his first miracle.
The Catholic faith and other Western traditions eventually parsed out the celebrations of each part of the Epiphany, moving Christ’s Baptism and the feast of the wedding at Cana after the celebration of the Adoration of the Magi.
In some Eastern traditions, the Epiphany, was originally the date when families gave presents, instead of on Christmas. Scripturally, it makes sense because of the kingly gifts Jesus received when the Magi adored him. Still in other traditions, the day of gift giving was on the feast of St. Nicholas, which is December 6. Growing up, the feast of St. Nick often meant a little extra money in one’s shoes (literally). Still yet some other traditions give gifts over the whole course of the Christmas season, each on the Twelve Days, with larger gifts on the Epiphany and Christmas itself. No matter which tradition you belong to, the Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season, the end of Yuletide, and the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It’s a day of remembrance and honor, and one day where we might think how little revelations happen each day.