By Epiphany

6 January or nearest Sunday

According to the Bible, some time after Jesus was born, he was visited by the Magi and presented with the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These wise men, or three kings, followed a star, and Jesus being shown to them represents his first appearance to the Gentiles, or non-Jewish folk. In previous centuries, Epiphany in Britain marked the beginning of Epiphanytide, commemorated with eight days of celebrations known as the Octave of Epiphany.

Epiphany itself was marked by choirs of young boys, known as Star Singers, who would walk house to house in costumes with crowns, holding a star on a rod, and sing Epiphany carols. When invited inside, they would perform a brief play of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus. This tradition itself is rooted in an earlier ecclesiastical play from medieval Britain, where players would arrive in town and perform a similar ritual, though the character of Judas would then demand payment from the audience for their troubles.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

Matthew 2:10, KJV

Doors would be chalked with crosses, the year, and the initials of the three Magi: CMB for Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. This was believed to both bring good fortune and repel evil spirits. Epiphanytide would also feature the first swim of the new year for many, with swimmers attending lakes, beaches, even ponds for a Winter swim in the cold waters to cleanse their sins.

Epiphany is still celebrated with church services, though other traditions that would take place on this day, both in Britain and throughout the world, have long died out.

Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi
Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi, Public Domain
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