Observance of Epiphany Spreads Among Christian Denominations

January 6, 2001

Source: The Denver Post

On January 6, 2001, The Denver Post reported on the increasing observance in the United States of the Christian holiday Epiphany, "which commemorates the visit by the Magi, or wise men, to the newborn Jesus." Also called the Festival of Lights, Epiphany "means appearance or manifestation, and in the Christian view it means the bodily appearance of the divine." Said the Rev. Tom Troeger, "for the first 300 years of Christianity, followers celebrated both Christ's birth and the Epiphany on the same day - Jan. 6." Once Christmas began to be celebrated on Dec. 25, "most of the churches that continued to celebrate the Epiphany were the more liturgical ones, including Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran. Some celebrate on the exact date and Catholics celebrate on the Sunday between Jan. 3 and 8." Now "Epiphany has caught on with many Protestant churches." Church leaders attribute the increased observance of Epiphany to the growing number of interdenominational talks. Troeger "believes the two important messages of Epiphany are that 'the light of God is for the whole world and worship of God is central to life.'" The Protestant observance of the holiday includes sermons and sometimes pageants. Eastern Orthodox churches make water the center of their ceremonies. In some cities in Greece, priests throw crosses into the ocean. In Denver people drink vials of holy water or sprinkle it over themselves. "The water ceremonies recall the importance of water in sustaining human life and its use in the Christian rite of baptism."