The tradition of the Epiphany

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, January 3, 2018

While some may think the holiday season ends once New Year’s Day comes and goes, for Christians, the season continues into January with the feast of the Epiphany.

The Epiphany occurs 12 days after Christmas, which falls on Jan. 6 or Jan. 19 for some Orthodox churches that celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7. The Epiphany celebrates the Three Kings, also known as the Three Wise Men, who visited Jesus shortly after his birth.

The Epiphany is celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Among Hispanics, the day is known as El Día de los Reyes.

Many traditions are included in Epiphany celebrations. According to the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, three historical traditions of the Epiphany include baking a “Kings’ Cake,” marking a door lintel with the Magi’s blessing, and participating in worship with lighted candles. Some families also exchange gifts on the Epiphany to commemorate the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that the Three Wise Men presented to Jesus upon arriving at the manger.


Celebrants of the Epiphany can mark their own doors, also called “chalking the doors.” This tradition is a centuries-old practice that serves as a request of Christ to bless the homes marked so that all those who dwell inside remain blessed throughout the year. The marking includes the first digits of the year, followed by the initials of the Magi — Caspar, Malchior and Balthazar — followed by the last digits of the year. For 2018 the formula should read: 20+C+M+B+18. Others believe the letters represent the abbreviation of the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or “May Christ bless the house.”


King cakes vary by region. In Spain, local bakers make a special ring-shaped roll. In France, it is a flat almond cake with a toy crown cooked inside. In Mexico, bakers put a figure of Baby Jesus inside a cake. The person who finds the figure is awarded the honor of baking or providing the cake for the following year and hosting the Epiphany celebration.


Individuals are urged to keep candles lit on the Epiphany. This is to symbolize how Jesus’ presence on Earth was comparable to light entering a darkened world.

The arrival of the New Year beckons an important religious celebration that extends the magic of the Christmas season.