12 Quick Facts about the Epiphany

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

As the calendar flips to a new year, almost any Christmas item has long been sold on clearance, and store shelves have quickly been refilled with Valentine’s Day trinkets. Meanwhile, your Christmas tree has either been dumped by this time or banished to the basement with the other holiday decorations.

However, with the busyness of the American holiday season behind us, now is a great time to return our focus to the true meaning of Christmas with a look at the Epiphany. To help you celebrate this sometimes forgotten Christian holiday on January 6, here are 12 quick facts you can learn or teach to your children about the Epiphany:

1. The visit of the magi is only recorded in the gospel of Matthew.

2. The gifts of the magi can be interpreted as representing Christ’s royalty as King of the Jews (gold), his divinity (frankincense – see Malachi 1:11), and his humanity (myrrh – see John 19:39 and Mark 15:23).

3. Because of the number of gifts mentioned, it’s widely assumed there were three wise men, but no mention is made to the number of magi who came to honor Jesus’ birth.

4. The bones of the wise men are supposedly contained in an elaborate gold shrine that sits in the famous Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

5. The traditional names of the Magi are Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

6. The Epiphany is preceded by Twelfth Night, a festival marking the end of the 12 days of Christmas on the eve of January 5. Many people in America today, especially marketers emphasizing holiday shopping, incorrectly label the 12 days of Christmas prior to December 25.

7. In some European countries, children leave their shoes out the night before the Epiphany to be filled with gifts. Other children leave straw for the horses of the kings.

8. In certain parts of the world such as southern Mexico, children open presents on January 6 to celebrate the magi coming to bring gifts to the Christ child.

9. For many Protestant churches, the season of the Epiphany extends from January 6 until Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.

10. The six Sundays that follow the Epiphany are known as “the time of manifestation.” The last Sunday of the Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday.

11. Plough Monday followed the Epiphany in an ancient custom that was especially popular in small rural villages in England. The day marked the beginning of a winter ploughing season when work resumed following an unpaid Christmas period.

12. After the visit of the magi, Joseph had a dream to escape to Egypt. Because Herod ordered all the two-year-old boys and younger to be killed in Bethlehem and the surrounding regions, Jesus was probably two years old when they visited him (not 12 days old).

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