World News

Epiphany Celebrations Around the World

Posted January 6, 2018 4:32 p.m. EST

For Christians around the world, the official end to the Christmas holiday occurs on Jan. 6. Known as Epiphany, or the 12th Day of Christmas, it commemorates how a star led the Magi, or the three kings or wise men, to the baby Jesus.

Countries celebrate on the evening before and on the actual day with parades of decorative floats and people in costume as the kings bearing gifts. The festivities often feature light and music shows, and clowns and jugglers who throw candy to the crowds.

In Spain, parents and their children packed city sidewalks Saturday to watch colorful parades. The celebrations commemorate the journey that three wise men are said to have taken to present the baby Jesus with gifts.

In recent years, security has been tightened in Madrid and Barcelona amid fears of potential terrorist attacks, and large vehicles have been banned from streets near the parade routes.

Christmas gifts are traditionally given on Epiphany in Spain and in many Latin American countries. Children write letters to the Magi on the feast’s eve, requesting presents. Children often leave their shoes out overnight to find presents in the morning.

An Epiphany parade also took place in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. But Czechs also take an icy swim in the Vltava River alongside the medieval Charles Bridge.

People also strip to swim en masse in Bulgaria, Greece and Russia.

The Greek Orthodox Australians celebrated the Holy Epiphany this weekend, and more than 3,000 people are expected to visit Frankston Waterfront, near Melbourne, on Saturday for the annual Blessing of the Waters. The ceremony of Theofania, following Epiphany Day, will end with the Blessing of the Waters at Princes Pier in Port Melbourne.

In Mexico, the holiday gets a sweet ending with Rosca de Reyes, a sweet bread baked in a ring to resemble a crown, with a baby figurine hidden inside to represent the holy family’s need to hide from King Herod.

The tradition is also alive and well in Southern California, where whoever finds the baby figurine is responsible for a feast for Candlemas, on Feb. 2. (That usually means providing tamales, which take a lot of work to prepare.)

On the eve of Epiphany, when most Italian children wake up to find gifts and candy, Pope Francis visited a pediatric hospital outside Rome, the Palidoro Bambino Gesu Hospital.

The Vatican media office said in a statement that Francis had “exchanged some words of comfort with the parents who are caring for their children in their tiring and painful trials.”

He was “continuing the experience of the Mercy Fridays,” visits to hospitals, orphanages and other care facilities during the 2015-16 Year of Mercy.

Francis also presided over a Mass for the feast of the Epiphany on Friday at the Vatican and one at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday.

In his homily on Saturday, Francis advised against making the pursuit of money, a career or success the basis for one’s whole life, urging people to also resist “the inclinations toward arrogance, the thirst for power and for riches.”

Francis said that people “often make do” with having “health, a little money and a bit of entertainment.”

In his homily Friday, he called on the faithful to be like the Magi, who, he said, continued to look at the sky, took risks and set out bearing gifts for Christ.

“If we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a child.

“Those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.”