Traditions of Epiphany

Alright! So on to Epiphany traditions! As you know, there are Catholics all around the world. A 2015 estimate puts it at about 1.285 billion! (think of all the Masses being celebrated at any given time!) Many places have traditions that are unique to the region. These also depend on what Rite is followed but there are a few that are pretty global. (and a little more history)

The first is the 3 kings show up at Mass. Many times it’s children, but sometimes it’s adults too, dressed in costume. They bring in the gifts to present to Baby Jesus. Sometimes they give little treats to other children.

Another nearly universal way to celebrate Epiphany is with Kings Cake! There are a few different variations, but most involve a sweet cake that has been iced, with a surprise inside. Many times it’s a little figure of a baby, although sometimes it’s a single nut or a crown. Although, some have gotten away from small hard plastic things. Broken teeth and choking hazards.

Sometimes the cakes are individual, each with their own surprise. But more often than not, when the cakes are shared with family and friends it is baked in a ring to symbolize a crown (3 kings), with the baby hidden as Jesus was with Mary and Joseph in Egypt. After it’s baked, it’s drizzled with icing, often gold, green, and purple (Yes, Carnevale and Mardi Gras figure in too). The cake is sliced and whoever has the baby either gets an extra present (kind like finding the pickle in the Christmas tree) or they get to host next year’s party!

In some places, like Spain, Epiphany is the day Christmas gifts are opened. Children write letters to the kings on the Vigil of Epiphany instead of Santa. They leave their shoes outside their doors and find their gifts there the next morning.
Many countries also have parades with the kings bringing up the rear and festivals. Some countries like Greece, Russia, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic have a swim too! (Think polar bear plunge, well, except maybe Greece, although 50°F is probably pretty chilly)

Often times in the United States, you can find blessed chalk being passed out in churches. We use this chalk to bless our homes in the new year!
Here is the common form of the blessing you can do yourself from Aleteia.

In some places, Epiphany doesn’t end the Christmas Season (as explained in the previous post). This is a very old tradition that is still held in the liturgical calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Christmastide in this tradition ends on Candlemas on Feb 2nd, 40 days after Christmas. The name Candlemas comes from Simeon’s prophecy of Jesus being a light to Gentiles.

Candlemas is also known as Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary or as most of us probably know it as the Presentation of the Lord.

We hear the same Gospel reading we heard on December 31st. It tells us of about Mary and Joseph entering the temple with Jesus the 1st time when her “purification” period according to Jewish custom was done. This has to do with childbirth and recovery. Although not seen so much today (still happens though), starting about the 5th century, Christian royals and nobility practiced “churching” where new mothers weren’t allowed to receive Communion or even be in church for 40 days because they were “unclean”. They pretty much weren’t allowed out of their rooms. It extended to the lower classes too, but obviously “get back to work peasants” had them out doing what we moms do today. (Thanks Mosaic laws)


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