It wasn’t until I was well into writing my first novel, Token of Betrayal, that I became aware of the holy day of the Epiphany. I had always thought it was just a fun word. So imagine my delight when I discovered it was actually a winter celebration. How convenient for my character to gain a sudden insight on the day of the Epiphany!
In Token of Betrayal, several of the characters come together to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. During that scene, events transpire that foreshadow things to come in my Roses & Rebels series. My short story, Philippe’s Epiphany, featured in the new anthology published by the Paper Lantern Writers, Beneath a Midwinter Moon, gives the reader some insight as to how this holy day was celebrated during the 15th century. And, of course, my protagonist, Philippe, has a moment of enlightenment and makes a life changing decision. What his choice means for his future is made manifest in the second novel of the series, Betrayal of Trust.
The Epiphany holds special importance in many European countries. In some countries, like the United States, Christmas is the traditional day of gift giving. But in many other countries, gifts are exchanged on the Epiphany.
Western Christian churches typically celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th. Depending on when the counting of days begins, it may or may not be included as one of the twelve days of Christmas. Unlike some major Christian holidays, the Epiphany has no pagan origin and has been celebrated since the 4th century CE. Interestingly, this solemn feast falls on the day after Twelfth Night, a riotous event where everything is topsy-turvy. Men may dress as women and vice versa, wassail and ribald conversation flows freely, and the Lord of Misrule reigns as the wealthy serve the peasantry. I feature both of these holidays in my first novel, Token of Betrayal.
If, like me, you have never heard of the Feast of the Epiphany, often referred to as Three King’s Day, it commemorates three events in the life of Christ: the Magi coming from the East to worship the baby Jesus, his baptism when his divinity is manifested to the world, and his first miracle of turning water into wine.
Some traditions observed on the Epiphany include:
- A religious service which includes readings, prayers, and the singing of hymns.
- The lighting of candles symbolizing the coming of Christ, the light of the world.
- Blessing of the home by marking the lintel of the door with chalk that has been blessed by a priest.
- Eating the Kings’ Cake. The type of confection varies by country. It could be a fruit cake, an almond filled pastry, etc. The common characteristic is that either a figure of a baby or a bean is baked inside. The person finding the object is king for the day and given a paper crown to wear. In the English tradition, other items may also be added to the cake.
- In earlier centuries, lords of the manor would entertain their dinner guests with mimes, jugglers, minstrels, etc. For the feast of the Epiphany this may include a reenactment of the journey of the Magi.
What interesting holiday traditions have you come across in your readings or travels? Please let me know in the comments.
C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.