Epiphany Celebrations In January: Boar's Head, Yule Log, Talking Animals, Star Gazing and Others

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A Holiday of Discovery and Light

Epiphany or Theophany (God's shining manifestation) is a feast day and a church season among Christian congregations.

The day is January 6, celebrated as Christmas by Russian, Greek, Ukrainian, Serbian, some Appalachian, and many other churches observing the Gregorian Calendar and Orthodox Faith. By an older Julian Calendar, the day is our January 19, but the day irrespective of date is also celebrated by many as that on which the Magi visited Jesus after his birth (Mystery of the Three Kings).

January 6 is also a day on which some churches commemorate the Baptism of Jesus by his cousin John the Baptist. Finally, some churches celebrate three events at once: the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, and the Water Into Wine. Check your local newspapers to see which churches are celebrating what events January 6.

Many of these congregations add to the celebrations with concerts and large celebratory meals. Further, the linens on the altar and pulpit in many churches change to white on January 6 and remain until Ash Wednesday, the season of Epiphany having lasted from January 6 through Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras).

Tying all together, we have a chain of events of constant celebration and remembrance:

  • Christmas on December 25
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas to January 6
  • Twelfth Night or Epiphany or Old Christmas, also called Little Christmas or Orthodox Christmas on January 6
  • The Church Season of Epiphany and the beginning of weekly Mardi Gras parties after January 6
  • Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday - the end of the long Mardi Gras season and the Church Season of Epiphany
  • Ash Wednesday - the beginning of Lent and some form of fasting for 40 days, to be ended by Resurrection Day or Easter.

Mystery Of the Three Kings

Some of the most interesting celebrations on January 6 are that which honor the memory of the Magi (wise men or kings of the East) that followed a star, thought now to be Jupiter in retrograde, in order to find the Christ Child. We often hear of The Three Wise Men, but the number three (3) was often used in literature of the time to designate a group of 12 or more. The number 12 fits in with a number of considerations of the day, including the 12 Tribes of Israel in the Old Testament and the 12 Apostles of Jesus in the New Testament.

What was the mysterious star? Recent research finds that it was a planet, as presented in the DVD below. Some speculation is that the Star of Bethlehem will return during Christmas 2013.

Film Clip About the DVD Shown Above

The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi

Some previous research found that the journey of the Magi to the Christ Child could be traced on an ancient coin.

Some observatories and planetariums present special programs about the Magi during the Christmas and January seasons. Other organizations show films about the research behind finding the Star of Bethlehem today.

Boar's Head and Yule Log

One Ohio church I found celebrates the Epiphany in January with an annual Boar's Head and Yule Log celebration. The Yule Log is traditionally kept throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas and eaten on Epiphany. The Boar's Head is taken from the Roman Empire but also the Norman tradition that the pig's head represented evil. Serving up the cooked Boar's Head represent's Christ's victory over evil and the grave.

The Night The Animals Talk

The first non-Native American settlers that arrived in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains - including Eastern Ohio when my ancestors settled - were laergely Scots-Irish and English. They preserved the belief from their home countries that those who could stay awake until midnight on Old Christmas Eve (January 5th or Twelfth Night) would hear the animals talking about Christmas and praying in the barns and farm fields.

The Scots-Irish Presbyterians held that January 6 should be Christmas, as opposed to the Julian Calendar used by Roman Catholics and its Christmas of December 25. So, in these Scots-Irish communities in America, Old Christmas is still January 6 in parts if Appalachia, or both dates are celebrated, along with the whole Twelve Days of Christmas. It's quite a time! See the preesenation at: Appalachian Christmas.

Cross Diving

Greek Orthodox Bishop performs Great Blessing of Waters on Theophany, releasing the cross off the Glenelg Jetty, South Australia, for one of the swimmers to bring back.
Greek Orthodox Bishop performs Great Blessing of Waters on Theophany, releasing the cross off the Glenelg Jetty, South Australia, for one of the swimmers to bring back. | Source
Mayor, Knights, and a Quack Doctor. Mummers on Boxing Day (December 26) in the UK.
Mayor, Knights, and a Quack Doctor. Mummers on Boxing Day (December 26) in the UK. | Source
1874 Twelfth Night Revelers Carnival invitation, New Orleans.
1874 Twelfth Night Revelers Carnival invitation, New Orleans. | Source

Cross Diving and Other Celebrations

Tarpon Springs Florida's 107th Epiphany celebration on January 6, 2012 includes the Orthodox tradition of cross diving. A high ranking cleric of the Orthodox Church in our nation throws a cross into the ocean and hundreds of boys dive in to look for it. It is a rite of passage for Greek Orthodox boys in America, ages 16 - 18. It honors the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist, his cousin.

Elsewhere, church congregations and whole towns will enjoy mummers plays (street entertainment), mystery plays about the Magi and the Star, and Christmas Caroling events.

Three Kings Day on January 6 is also called Noche de Reyes, celebrating the discovery of Jesus as an infant by the Magi. One treat on this day of feasting in the church is King's Cake (the same cake used for Mardi Gras), which is a large donut-shaped affair with a plastic baby or a gold coin hidden inside for a lucky person to find.

What are the celebrations in your area for January 6? I wish there were more Twelfth Night parties and such, but am fascinated by the Mystery of the Kings and the Star of Bethlehem. We Three Kings is the first carol I recall learning in elementary school and it stuck with me.

"The Visit to the Quack Doctor", by artist William Hogarth, about 1745. Quack Doctors and magic potions are often a part of Mummer's Plays.
"The Visit to the Quack Doctor", by artist William Hogarth, about 1745. Quack Doctors and magic potions are often a part of Mummer's Plays. | Source

An Epiphany Poll

If you celebrated January 6, what would be your choice of celebrations?

  • Twelfth Night Parties
  • Old Appalachian or Orthodox Christmas
  • Annual Cross Diving Jump Into Icy Waters
  • Talking Animals - Stories and visits to Christmas Season petting farms and zoos.
  • Boar's Head and Yule Log Feast
  • Mystery of the Three Kings and the Star
  • Three King's Day Feast
  • Mummer's Plays
See results without voting

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Comments 6 comments

Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 3 years ago from New England

Very comprehensive hub about the Epiphany, Patty. I've enjoyed reading it. Happy New Year and Happy Tres Reyes!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Epiphany greetings to you as well! I hiope you enjoy the day very much.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina

What a unique look into Epiphany celebrations. I had never heard there was a ceremony to hear the animals talk. Fascinating!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

I've heard about the animals talking from farmers in the past, but never knew the tradition before I saw it listed in our newspaper!


Duane Clay profile image

Duane Clay 3 years ago from Columbus, Georgia

Cross diving in the ocean... sounds intense and challenging considering how cold the water probably is. Very nice!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for commenting! Diving for the cross thrown into freezing waters is certainly intense, as you say.

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