What is the meaning of the Epiphany feast, which is celebrated on this January 6th

If it is officially fixed on this Friday in the Christian calendar, the Epiphany feast most often waits for the Sunday closest to January 6 in France. Regardless of the date, the celebration aims for the Church to celebrate the adoration of the Child Jesus by the Magi and the universality of his message. But from “king” identity to galettes, Epiphany is above all a matter of popular tradition.

It closes the holiday season, inaugurated with Christmas and extended with the New Year. And we didn’t fail to devour the frangipani (or brioche) from the galette. The celebration of the Epiphany is undoubtedly one of the events most firmly entrenched in French homes.

However, sometimes we forget its origin and history. A look back at the meaning of this event – and the customs associated with it – is officially set for this Friday.

January 6th or the following Sunday?

It is very important to agree on the date of the Epiphany. In principle, it is commemorated on January 6, according to the Catholic Church’s website. However, many French people will wait until Sunday to invite him to their table. The reason for this delay is more mundane than theological. Epiphany is not kept among the non-work days recognized by the Concordat of 1802, the Church allows its faithful to postpone it until the following Sunday, January 8 this year, so they can take full advantage of it.

Because Epiphany is, of course, religious. A dimension is written in etymology: the term thus comes from a Greek word with a double meaning. First, it refers to light – Antiquity noticed that the day began to lengthen significantly in early January –, above all, it evokes “manifestations” or “appearances.”

In the Christian context, the original question was to commemorate the divine incarnation through the coming into the world of the Son Jesus.

A reminder of a cult

But the purpose of the party has changed quite a bit over time. Indeed, the memory of the Nativity has been reserved for December 25 and Christ’s baptism for the Sunday following Epiphany. This one therefore focuses on a reminder of another episode from the New Testament: the veneration of Jesus by the “Wig Men”.

This is where it gets tricky. Indeed, the scene mentioned in Matthew chapter 2 is not covered in detail. Of these “magic men”, whom the evangelist mentions that they intended to “bow down” before the “king of the Jews”, no one knows either their names or their number. Little do we know that they came “from the East.”

A single precision is however important. This shows that the travelers were neither from Judea nor from Galilee, and therefore not Jews. They assert themselves as a sign of the universality of the “good news” brought by Christ, and as an extension of the Church who intends to convey that message.

Mystery of the Magi solved

However, we know one more thing about the visit of the Magi to Jesus. they did not come empty-handed, but with boxes full of gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. If the biblical text does not explain this gift choice, generations of interpreters will do so centuries after it was written.

This was particularly the case of Jacques de Voragine, archbishop of Genoa and especially a 13th-century Italian chronicler, as noted junction. The material splendor of gold places Christ’s royalty, the smoke of incense rising into the air in homage to his divinity. Myrrh is a more sad omen: used to treat the dead, even embalming them, the plant symbolizes the Passion of Christ and his crucifixion.

These three offerings may lead to the belief that the Magi bowed over Jesus three times. Nothing is certain because everything here is a matter of popular tradition which would also make them “kings”, give them a name, let alone which Telegram note that they started appearing in the sixth century. We find Jacques de Voragine rejecting this identity and characterizing his character, a sign that in the Middle Ages this was well cultivated:

“The first Magi was named Melchior, he was an old man with white hair, with a long beard. (…) The second, named Gaspard, young, beardless, red, presented to Jesus. (. . . ) The the third, with a black face, wearing all his beard, was called Balthazar”.

These physical details, related to different ages of life, provide the final information. Everyone is an ambassador for that part of the world. To European Melchior, to Asian Gaspard, and to African Balthazar.

Pancakes that suffocate infidels?

Besides the catechism for some, the song Sheila or the film The Unknown for others, “The Wise Man” has a good reason to keep it going: the galette. But the same goes for cakes for the whole of Epiphany, its history is a hybrid.

As specifically noted by Geographic national, apparently an inheritance from Saturnalia, the Roman winter celebrations. In the logic of a carnival where social roles could be reversed, Roman citizens then invited their slaves to share their cake with them. And in this cake? Yes, it’s nuts. However, in Roman society, jealously watching over the appearance of the republic, there could be no question of a king. Whoever falls on the bean is simply “Prince Saturnalia”. We granted all of her wishes for the day.

Saturnalia still adopts the latter usage around this cake. The youngest guest went under the table and blindly pointed at the recipient of the stake. A habit that also continues to this day.

Robin Verner BFMTV journalist

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