Epiphany ends the season of Christmastide. It is celebrated more in the East than in the U.S., and in fact, they consider it more important than Christmas. Epiphany commemorates the revelation of God as human in Jesus Christ, and specifically that revelation to the gentiles through the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child in Bethlehem. The word epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning appearance or manifestation.
In many cultures decorations and greenery are taken down on this day, and special gifts are given. In some European countries, children leave their shoes out the night before to be filled with gifts, while others leave straw for the three Kings’ horses.
In Spain they serve a pastry called a roscón, a ring-shaped roll, filled with cream or chocolate and decorated with a paper crown. Inside is a figure of a king —if you find that you can wear the crown, and a dried bean —if you find that you’re meant to pay for the cake!
In France the toy crown is cooked inside the cake and it’s decorated on top with a gold paper crown, and in Mexico Epiphany is known as El Dia de los Reyes (the day of The Three Kings). The cake is called Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings Cake). A figure of Baby Jesus is baked inside, and whoever finds it is the ‘godparent’ of Jesus for that year.
In Italy, some children receive presents in a stocking on Epiphany, which they believe are brought by an old lady called Befana.
In Austria and some parts of Germany some people write a special sign in chalk over their front door as a reminder of the Wise Men that visited the baby Jesus. In Belgium, children dress up as the three wise men and go out singing songs for money or sweets, kind of like Trick or Treating. Children in Poland also go out singing on Epiphany.
But my favorite tradition takes place in Ireland. The women get the day off and men do the housework and cooking! It is becoming more popular and many Irish women now get together on the Sunday nearest Epiphany and have tea and cakes!