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Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, is celebrated on January 6th by the Catholic Church as a holiday, one of the three principal and oldest festival days of the Christian church besides Easter and Christmas. It commemorates three things: the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi (the wise men); the manifestation of his divinity, occurred at his baptism in the Jordan River as well as at his first miracle, at Cana in Galilee. There are several traditions – both religious and non-religious – related to the feast, which we have collected below.

What is Epiphany?

The word Epiphany is derived from the Greek “epiphaneia,” or “manifestation.” The day of Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and other Western churches, while some Eastern Orthodox churches observe the feast, the manifestation of Jesus Christ on January 19th, since their Christmas Eve falls on January 6th. The Hungarian name of Epiphany, „Vízkereszt” is derived from the tradition of water consecration.

MTI/Balogh Zoltán

Epiphany started to spread among Christians at the beginning of the 4th century as a celebration of Christ’s birth, baptism, his first miracle, and the visit of the three kings. Later, the primary theme of the feast became the baptism of Jesus in the East, which still appears in the tradition of water consecration.

MTI/Balogh Zoltán

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has been celebrating the visit of the three kings on January 6th, including consecration of water, according to the council’s provisions. The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus will be held the following Sunday. On the intervening weekday, the Church commemorates Jesus’ first miracle, in which he turned water into wine.

Epiphany is also a prominent holiday in the Catholic Church because it is the beginning of the period when the house consecration begins. During this ritual, the priest sprinkles flats and houses with the newly blessed holy water; and with it, blesses its inhabitants and workers.

Traditions of the Day

Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings, the twelfth day of Christmas, is also the day to take the Christmas tree down. What’s more, the carnival season kicks off on this day as well, which ends before the liturgical season of Lent, on Shrove Tuesday, the Day before Ash Wednesday.

photo: MTI/Szigetváry Zsolt

In the past, animals were fed with holy water at home to keep illnesses away during the year. People also washed or sprinkled themselves with holy water to prevent diseases or deterioration. In some places, the land on which a house stood was also sprinkled to bless the house and its residents.

When priests consecrated the houses, the custom was that the initials C+M+B and the numbers referring to the calendar year were chalked or engraved on the houses. This is a 15th century custom, and the letters are an abbreviation of the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat, which means, May Christ bless this house. It is also the abbreviation of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar). In Hungary, Caspar is Gáspár, so on many Hungarian houses, one can find the letters G+M+B rather than C+M+B, as it meant to the people more than the Latin words.

Weather Forecast on Epiphany

If the eaves rumble on this day, which means the snow or ice melts, the winter will be long. If the snow is falling, spring comes early. If it freezes, winter will be long. If there is no rain on this day, the summer will be rainy. If it rains, spring will be rainy as well. If the wind blows, the weather will be good for the crops and a lucky year is ahead.