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Epiphany and Twelfth Night

Painting: Singing Round the Star on Twelfth Night. Creator: Cornelis Troost

Epiphany, also known as Three Kings' Day, is a significant Christian celebration occurring on 6th January. For many Christians, this date holds special importance as it marks the occasion when a guiding star led the Magi, also known as the Three Kings or the Wise Men, to visit the newborn Jesus.

The term 'Epiphany' originates from the Greek word denoting 'to reveal', highlighting the moment when the baby Jesus was unveiled to the world. This association with revelation is why people might refer to having an epiphany when they experience a sudden realisation or understanding.

Traditionally, especially in the gospel story related in Matthew, we glean from that passage that they are that they came from the East to Jerusalem. The ‘Magi’ had seen a star announcing the birth of the King of the Jews and they followed it. The Gospel doesn't mention that there were three Wise Men.

This idea comes from the three gifts, mentioned in Psalm 72:10-11:

“May the Kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute,

the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.

May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him”

Many Christians attend special church services on January 6. The figures representing the three wise men, or the Magi, are placed in the crib scenes on this special feast of the Epiphany.

At Mildmay we do the same, holding a chapel service, having placed the three additional crib figures. Again, according to tradition, the Epiphany marks the twelfth night after Christmas and ends the Christmas season.

Notably, the date of Epiphany coincides with Twelfth Night, which traditionally signals the conclusion of the Christmas festivities—taking place 12 nights after Christmas. For numerous individuals, Twelfth Night serves as a cue to dismantle decorations.

Superstition suggests that leaving decorations up beyond this date could bring bad luck, prompting a rush to take down festive adornments. However, determining the exact date of Twelfth Night can be a bit perplexing. Depending on different traditions, it may fall on either 5th January or 6th of January.

Anglicans typically observe Twelfth Night on 5th January, counting the 12 nights from Christmas Day itself. Yet, other churches commence counting from the following day, resulting in Twelfth Night falling on 6th January.


Image: Singing Round the Star on Twelfth Night. Creator: Cornelis Troost. Date: unknown. Institution: Mauritshuis. Provider: Digitale Collectie. Providing Country: Netherlands. PD for Public Domain Mark



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