What is Epiphany?
Epiphany is a Christian feast day celebrated on January 6 every year. It’s also known as “Three Kings’ Day.”
As mentioned in our Rookie Anglican Guide to Advent, the Christian year begins with the season of Advent, which leads up to Christmas on December 25.
Then come the 12 Days of Christmas (Dec. 25–Jan. 5), which lead to the feast of Epiphany on January 6.
Epiphany begins the season of “Epiphanytide” or “The Season after Epiphany.” Depending on whom you ask, this season
- Lasts until the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ [at the Temple] (AKA Candlemas) on February 2 (40 days inclusive after Christmas, when, according to Leviticus 12:1–8, Mary would have to be ritually purified after childbirth). OR
- Goes until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
(To learn more about what the Church year is and how it’s different than the civil calendar, click here.)
Why is it called “Epiphany”?
“Epiphany” comes from the Greek epiphaneia, meaning “manifestation” or “appearance.”
In 2 Timothy 1:9–10, the word is used to refer to the manifestation of Jesus Christ:
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (NIV).
In the context of the Church year, Epiphany refers to the appearance of Jesus Christ as the savior of the world—of Israel and the Gentiles.
For this reason, Epiphany is commonly associated with the visitation of the Magi (or “wise men”), who were almost certainly Gentiles, in Matthew 2:1–12.
The Church has long viewed the Magi finding Jesus (thanks to the leading light of a star) as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 60:1–3, particularly verse 3:
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Note that, in addition to the coming of the Magi, Jesus’s baptism and his changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana are also commonly associated with Epiphany, especially in eastern churches. These are two other “manifestations” of Christ’s glory, and you will frequently find Scripture readings about the baptism of Jesus and his miracle at Cana assigned for Epiphany worship services.
Though the Season after Epiphany is one of two periods in the Church calendar known as “ordinary time,” there’s nothing unimportant or boring about it! As Greg Goebel reminds us, during Epiphany we focus on “the mission of the Church to reach all the peoples of the earth, and the great gift of God’s grace in revealing healing truth and light to the world.”
(Note that what is celebrated as “Epiphany” in western churches is celebrated as “Theophany” in eastern churches. “Theophany” means “appearance of God.”)
What are some common practices during Epiphany?
Turns out, worldwide, there are a TON of common practices for Epiphany. Just take a look at the Wikipedia page for Epiphany to see what I mean.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll just mention two.
First, Twelfth Night celebrations are rather common to mark the conclusion of the 12 Days of Christmas. This is time to sing Christmas carols, have one’s house blessed, and (often) to then take Christmas decorations down.
Second, there’s often some kind of special cake that goes along with Epiphany celebration. These are often called “King Cakes,” and they usually contain certain items (such as a miniature figurine of the baby Jesus) that give the finder certain privileges or obligations.
So, for example, at my local church at Epiphany, we eat King Cakes, which we call “Rosca (de Reyes)” (“ring of the kings”) containing plastic figurines of baby Jesus. Whoever finds a baby Jesus in their piece of cake has to bake cookies for the annual church business meeting, which is held in early February around the feast of the Presentation.
If you want more Epiphany practices, check out:
- Epiphany Chalking of the Doors | The Homely Hours
- Epiphanytide: Three Kings Crowns | The Homely Hours
Epiphany(tide) Collects and Collect Reflections
In the Anglican tradition, each week of the Church year has a special prayer, called a “collect,” used during Sunday worship and then for the following week.
Here are the collects for Epiphany. Links in the titles will take you to the Anglican Compass Collect Reflection for that week—a short blog post to help you reflect on the collect! (If there’s no link, we haven’t written a collect reflection for that week yet, sorry!)
Note that, because the date of Easter changes each year, Epiphanytide or “The Season after Epiphany” can last anywhere from 40 to 63 days. So, some years, the last few Sundays of Epiphany don’t take place.
The Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The collect, with the psalm and lessons for the Epiphany, or those for the Second Sunday after Christmas, serves for weekdays between the Epiphany and the following Sunday. When the Epiphany falls on a Sunday, subsequent Sundays are termed Sundays after the Epiphany.
Eternal Father, at the baptism of Jesus you revealed him to be your Son, and your Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove: Grant that we, who are born again by water and the Spirit, may be faithful as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
O God, you know that we are set in the midst of many grave dangers, and because of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant that your strength and protection may support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple; February 2
Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
O Lord, our heavenly Father, keep your household the Church continually in your true religion, that we who trust in the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
The Sixth Sunday of Epiphany
Almighty God, look mercifully upon your people, that by your great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
The Seventh Sunday of Epiphany
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Eighth Sunday of Epiphany
O Lord, you have taught us that without love, all our deeds are worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you; grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation: Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This Sunday is sometimes known as “Transfiguration Sunday,” but it’s different from the feast of the Transfiguration, which is celebrated on August 6.
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Other Epiphany posts at Anglican Compass
If you’d like to learn more about Epiphany, check out the following posts right here at Anglican Compass:
- Devotions for the Twelve Days of Christmas and the Epiphany, by Greg Goebel
- The Season after Epiphany, by Greg Goebel
- What They Are Saying About Epiphany, by David Roseberry
- A Bridge to the Season of Lent, by Jack King
- Here’s Why You Should Celebrate an Epiphany Festival, by Chris Marchand
Other Epiphany resources
Obviously, we don’t have the market cornered on Epiphany! Check out the following external resources to learn more about Epiphany and how to celebrate it:
- The Week of Epiphany | The Homely Hours
- Songs for Epiphany – Cardiphonia
- Wikipedia’s Epiphany page is informative, and so is the page about the Epiphany season.
- Epiphany Resource Guide, by the Calvin Institute of Worship
- Epiphany Links and Resources, by The Text This Week
Did I leave anything out?
If there’s something I didn’t mention that you think should be in this introduction/guide to Epiphany, please let me know in the comments below!