Epiphany (holiday)

Epiphany (holiday)

Epiphany, (Koine Greek: ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation", "striking appearance",[1]) or Theophany, (Ancient Greek (ἡ) Θεοφάνεια, Τheophaneia,[2]) meaning "vision of God",[3] which falls on January 6, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.[4]

Eastern Churches following the Julian Calendar observe the Theophany feast on January 19[5] because of the 13-day difference today between that calendar and the generally used Gregorian calendar.[6] For Roman Catholics in many countries, the feast is celebrated on the Sunday that falls between January 2 and January 8.[7][8]

Alternative names for the feast include (τα) Θεοφάνια, Theophany as neuter plural rather than feminine singular, η Ημέρα των Φώτων, i Imera ton Foton, "The Day of the Lights", and τα Φώτα, ta Fota, "The Lights".[9]


Etymology and original word usage

The Koine Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia derives from the verb "to appear" and means "appearance," "manifestation." In classical Greek it was used of the appearance of dawn, of an enemy in war, or of a manifestation of a god.[10] In the Septuagint the word is used for a manifestation of the God of Israel (2 Maccabees 15:27).[11] In the New Testament the word is used in 2 Timothy 1:10 to refer either to the birth of Christ[10] or to his appearance after his resurrection, and five times to refer to the Second Coming.[10][11]


The observance had its origins in the Eastern Christian Churches and was a general celebration of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It included the commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Magi ("Wise Men", as Magi were Persian priests) to Bethlehem; all of Jesus's childhood events, up to and including his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist; and even the miracle at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee.[12] It seems fairly clear that the Baptism was the primary event being commemorated.[13][14]

Christians fixed the date of the feast on January 6 quite early in their history. Ancient liturgies noted Illuminatio, Manifestatio, Declaratio (Illumination, Manifestation, Declaration); cf. Matthew 3:13–17; Luke 3:22; and John 2:1–11; where the Baptism and the Marriage at Cana were dwelt upon. Western Christians have traditionally emphasized the "Revelation to the Gentiles" mentioned in Luke, where the term Gentile means all non-Jewish peoples. The Biblical Magi, who represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus in stark contrast to Herod the Great (King of Judea), who sought to kill him.[15] In this event, Christian writers also inferred a revelation to the Children of Israel. Saint John Chrysostom identified the significance of the meeting between the Magi and Herod's court: "The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way the birth of Jesus would be made known to all.".[16]

The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus[17] St. Epiphanius says that January 6 is hemera genethlion toutestin epiphanion (Christ's "Birthday; that is, His Epiphany").[18] He also asserts that the Miracle at Cana occurred on the same calendar day.[19]

In 385, the pilgrim Egeria (also known as Silvia) described a celebration in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which she called "Epiphany" (epiphania) that commemorated the Nativity of Christ.[20] Even at this early date, there was an octave associated with the feast.

In a sermon delivered on December 25, 380, St. Gregory of Nazianzus referred to the day as ta theophania ("the Theophany", an alternative name for Epiphany), saying expressly that it is a day commemorating he hagia tou Christou gennesis ("the holy nativity of Christ") and told his listeners that they would soon be celebrating the baptism of Christ.[21] Then, on January 6 and 7, he preached two more sermons,[22] wherein he declared that the celebration of the birth of Christ and the visitation of the Magi had already taken place, and that they would now commemorate his Baptism.[23] At this time, celebration of the two events was beginning to be observed on separate occasions, at least in Cappadocia.

Saint John Cassian says that even in his time (beginning of the 5th century), the Egyptian monasteries celebrated the Nativity and Baptism together on January 6.[24] The Armenian Apostolic Church continues to celebrate January 6 as the only commemoration of the Nativity.

Epiphany in different Christian traditions

Epiphany is celebrated by both the Eastern and Western Churches, but a major difference between them is precisely which events the feast commemorates. For Western Christians, the feast primarily commemorates the coming of the Magi; Eastern churches celebrate the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. In both traditions, the essence of the feast is the same: the manifestation of Christ to the world (whether as an infant or in the Jordan), and the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Western Christian Churches

The Three Magi: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar, from a late 6th century mosaic at the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy.
K † M † B † 2009 written on a door of rectory in Lstiboř village, Czech Republic to bless the house by Christ

Even before the year 354,[25] the Western Church had separated the celebration of the Nativity of Christ as the feast of Christmas and set its date as December 25; it reserved January 6 as a commemoration of the manifestation of Christ, especially to the Magi, but also at his baptism and at the wedding feast of Cana.[26] Hungarians, in an apparent reference to baptism, refer to the January 6 celebration as Vízkereszt which term recalls the words "víz" as water, "kereszt, kereszt-ség" as baptism. In parts of the Eastern Church, January 6 continued for some time as a composite feast that included the Nativity of Jesus: though Constantinople adopted December 25 to commemorate Jesus' birth in the fourth century, in other parts the Nativity of Jesus continued to be celebrated on January 6, a date later devoted exclusively to commemorating his Baptism.[25]

Liturgical practice in Western Churches

The West observes a twelve-day festival, starting on December 25, and ending on January 5, known as Christmastide or the Twelve Days of Christmas. Some Christian cultures, especially those of Latin America and some in Europe, extend the season to as many as forty days, ending on Candlemas (February 2).

On the Feast of the Epiphany, the priest, wearing white vestments, will bless the Epiphany water, frankincense, gold, and chalk. Chalk is used to write the initials of the three magi over the doors of churches and homes. The letters stand for the initials of the Magi (traditionally named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), and also the phrase Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates as "may Christ bless the house".

According to ancient custom, the priest announced the date of Easter on the feast of Epiphany. This tradition dated from a time when calendars were not readily available, and the church needed to publicize the date of Easter, since many celebrations of the liturgical year depend on it.[27] The proclamation may be sung or proclaimed at the ambo by a deacon, cantor, or reader either after the reading of the Gospel or after the postcommunion prayer.[27]

Date of commemoration

Prior to the reform of 1955, when Pope Pius XII abolished all but three liturgical octaves, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated Epiphany as an eight-day feast beginning on January 6 and ending on January 13, known as the Octave of Epiphany. They celebrated the feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday within the octave, and the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on the Sunday between January 2 and January 5 or, if there were no such Sunday, on January 2. They calculated Christmastide as the twelve days ending on January 5, followed by Epiphany time, consisting of the feast and its octave.

In the 1970 revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6 for countries where the feast is a Holy Day of Obligation. In other countries, it is celebrated on the Sunday after January 1. Christmastide ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is always on the Sunday after Epiphany (unless, where Epiphany is not a holy day of obligation, Epiphany is celebrated on January 7 or 8, in which case Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following Monday). In the pre-1970 version of that calendar, the following Sundays are named, until Septuagesima, as the "First (etc.) Sunday after Epiphany".

The Roman Missal provides a formula with appropriate chant (in the tone of the Exsultet) for proclaiming on Epiphany, wherever it is customary to do so, the dates in the calendar for the celebration of Ash Wednesday, Easter Sunday, Ascension of Jesus Christ, Pentecost, the Body and Blood of Christ, and the First Sunday of Advent in the following Liturgical Year.

Prior to 1976, the Anglican churches also observed an eight-day feast. Today the Epiphany is classified as a Principal Feast and is observed on January 6 or on the Sunday between January 2 and 8. There is also an Epiphany season, observed between the season of Christmas and the first period of Ordinary Time. It begins at Evening Prayer on the Eve of the Epiphany, and ends at Evening Prayer (or Night Prayer) on the Feast of the Presentation.

Lutheran, United Methodist and United Church of Christ congregations, along with those of other denominations, may celebrate Epiphany on January 6, on the following Sunday within the Epiphany week (octave), or at another time (Epiphany Eve January 5, the nearest Sunday, etc.) as local custom dictates.[28] [29] In these denominations and others, marking the festival's importance, all of the Sundays following are marked as the first, second, third, Nth, etc.,"Sunday after Epiphany" up until the beginning of Lent in February or March; these intervening weeks commonly being called the Epiphany season.[30]

Eastern churches celebrate Epiphany (Theophany) on January 6. Some, such as those in Greece, employ the modern Gregorian calendar, while others, such as those in Russia, hold to the older Julian Calendar for reckoning church dates. In these old-calendar churches Epiphany falls on January 19 today.

Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches

Russian icon of the Theophany (Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, 1497).

Usually called the Feast of Theophany (Greek: Θεοφάνεια, "God shining forth" or "divine manifestation"), it is one of the Great Feasts of the liturgical year, being third in rank, behind only Paskha (Easter) and Pentecost in importance. It is celebrated on January 6 of the calendar that the particular Church uses. On the Julian Calendar, which some of the Orthodox churches follow, that date corresponds, during the present century, to January 19 on the Gregorian or Revised Julian calendar.

The earliest reference to the feast in the Eastern Church is a remark by St. Clement of Alexandria in Stromateis, I, xxi, 45:

And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord's birth, but also the day… And the followers of Basilides hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings. And they say that it was the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the fifteenth day of the month of Tubi; and some that it was the eleventh of the same month.

(The 11th and 15th of Tubi are January 6 and 10 respectively.)

If this is a reference to a celebration of Christ's birth, as well as of his baptism, on 6 January, it corresponds to what continues to be the custom of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which celebrates the birth of Jesus on 6 January of the calendar used, calling the feast that of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord.[31][32]

Origen's list of festivals (in Contra Celsum, VIII, xxii) omits any reference to Epiphany. The first reference to an ecclesiastical feast of the Epiphany, in Ammianus Marcellinus (XXI:ii), is in 361.

Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked one of only two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor). Thus the holy day is considered to be a Trinitarian feast.

The Orthodox consider Jesus' Baptism to be the first step towards the Crucifixion, and there are some parallels in the hymnography used on this day and the hymns chanted on Good Friday.

Liturgical practice in Eastern Churches

Forefeast: The liturgical Forefeast of Theophany begins on January 1, and concludes with the Paramony on January 5.

Paramony: The Eve of the Feast is called Paramony (Greek: παραμονή, Slavonic: navechérie). Paramony is observed as a strict fast day, on which those faithful who are physically able, refrain from food until the first star is observed in the evening, when a meal with wine and oil may be taken. On this day the Royal Hours are celebrated, thus tying together the feasts of Nativity and Good Friday. The Royal Hours are followed by the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil which combines Vespers with the Divine Liturgy. During the Vespers, fifteen Old Testament lections which foreshadow the Baptism of Christ are read, and special antiphons are chanted. If the Feast of the Theophany falls on a Sunday or Monday, the Royal Hours are chanted on the previous Friday, and on the Paramony the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated and the fasting is lessened to some degree.

Theophany Crucession in Bulgaria. The priests are going to throw a wooden cross in the Yantra river. Believers will then jump into the icy waters to "save" the cross.

Blessing of Waters: The Orthodox Churches perform the Great Blessing of Waters on Theophany.[33] The blessing is normally done twice: once on the Eve of the Feast—usually at a Baptismal font inside the church—and then again on the day of the feast, outdoors at a body of water. Following the Divine Liturgy, the clergy and people go in a Crucession (procession with the cross) to the nearest body of water, be it a beach, harbor, quay, river, lake, swimming pool, water depot, etc. (ideally, it should be a body of "living water"). At the end of the ceremony the priest will bless the waters. In the Greek practice, he does this by casting a cross into the water. If swimming is feasible on the spot, any number of volunteers may try to recover the cross. The person who gets the cross first swims back and returns it to the priest, who then delivers a special blessing to the swimmer and their household. Certain such ceremonies have achieved particular prominence, such as the one held annually at Tarpon Springs, Florida. In Russia, where the winters are severe, a hole will be cut into the ice so that the waters may be blessed. In such conditions, the cross is not cast into the water, but is held securely by the priest and dipped three times into the water.

Greek Orthodox bishop at the Great Blessing of Waters on Theophany, releasing the cross off the Glenelg Jetty, South Australia, for one of the swimmers below to retrieve.

The water that is blessed on this day is known as "Theophany Water" and is taken home by the faithful, and used with prayer as a blessing. People will not only bless themselves and their homes by sprinkling with Theophany Water, but will also drink it. The Orthodox Church teaches that Theophany Water differs from regular holy water in that with Theophany Water, the very nature of the water is changed and becomes incorrupt,[34] a miracle attested to as early as St. John Chrysostom.[35]

Theophany is a traditional day for performing Baptisms, and this is reflected in the Divine Liturgy by singing the baptismal hymn, "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia," in place of the Trisagion.

House Blessings: On Theophany the priest will begin making the round of the parishioner's homes to bless them. He will perform a short prayer service in each home, and then go through the entire house, gardens and outside-buildings, blessing them with the newly blessed Theophany Water, while all sing the Troparion and Kontakion of the feast. This is normally done on Theophany, or at least during the Afterfeast, but if the parishioners are numerous, and especially if many live far away from the church, it may take some time to bless each house. Traditionally, these blessings should all be finished before the beginning of Great Lent).

Afterfeast: The Feast of Theophany is followed by an eight-day Afterfeast on which the normal fasting laws are suspended. The Saturday and Sunday after Theophany have special readings assigned to them, which relate to the Temptation of Christ and to penance and perseverance in the Christian struggle. There is thus a liturgical continuum between the Feast of Theophany and the beginning of Great Lent.

Oriental Orthodox

In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the feast is known as Timkat and is celebrated on the day that the Gregorian calendar calls 19 January, but on 20 January in years when Enkutatash in the Ethiopian calendar falls on Gregorian 12 September (i.e. when the following February in the Gregorian calendar will have 29 days). The celebration of this feast features blessing of water and solemn processions with the sacred Tabot.

Among the Syriac Christians the feast is called denho (up-going), a name to be connected with the notion of rising light expressed in Luke 1:78.

In the Armenian Apostolic Church, January 6 is celebrated as the Nativity (Surb Tsnund) and Theophany of Christ. The feast is preceded by a seven-day fast. On the eve of the feast, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. This Liturgy is referred to as the Chragaluytsi Patarag (the Eucharist of the lighting of the lamps) in honor of the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God. This liturgy is followed by a blessing of water, during which the cross is immersed in the water, symbolizing Jesus' descent into the Jordan, and holy myron (chrism) is poured in, symbolic of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus. The next morning, after the Liturgy, the cross is removed from the vessel of holy water and all come forward to kiss the cross and partake of the blessed water.

National and local customs

A traditional Bulgarian all-male horo dance in ice-cold water on Theophany

Epiphany is celebrated with a wide array of customs around the world. In some cultures, the greenery and nativity scenes put up at Christmas are taken down at Epiphany. In other cultures these remain up until February 2. In countries historically shaped by Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism) these customs often involve gift giving, "king cakes" and a celebratory close to the Christmas season. In traditionally Orthodox nations, these celebrations typically center around water, baptismal rites and house blessings.

Bulgarians dance a traditional horo with drum and bagpipe in icy waters on Epiphany after services and the blessing of the waters. This is a men's-only dance. As well as a religious tradition, it is an opportunity for young men to show off their boldness and vigor to anyone who may be watching, especially young women.[36]

The Dutch and Flemish call this day Driekoningen, German speakers call it Dreikönigstag (Three Kings' Day). In the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and neighboring Germany, children in groups of three (symbolising the three kings) proceed in costume from house to house while singing songs typical for the occasion, and receiving a coin or some sweets at each door. They may each carry a paper lantern symbolizing the star.[37] In some places, especially Holland, these troops gather for competitions and present their skits/songs for an audience. As in France, Koningentaart (Kings' tart), puff pastry with almond filling, is prepared with a bean or coin hidden inside. Whoever finds the bean in his or her piece is king or queen for the day. A more typically Dutch version is Koningenbrood, or Kings' bread. Another Low Countries tradition on Epiphany is to open up doors and windows to let good luck in for the coming year.

In England, the celebration is also known as Twelfth Night, and was a traditional time for mumming and the wassail. The yule log was left burning until this day, and the charcoal left was kept until the next Christmas to kindle next year's yule log, as well as to protect the house from fire and lightning.[38] In the past, Epiphany was also a day for playing practical jokes, similar to April Fool's Day. Today in England, Twelfth Night is still as popular a day for plays as when Shakespeare's Twelfth Night was first performed in 1601, and annual celebrations involving the Holly Man are held in London.[39] A traditional dish for Epiphany is Twelfth Cake, a rich, dense, typically English fruitcake. As in Europe, whoever finds the baked-in bean is king for a day, but unique to English tradition other items may be included in the cake. Whoever finds the clove is the villain, the twig, the fool, and the rag, the tart. Anything spicy or hot, like ginger snaps and spiced ale, though is considered proper Twelfth Night fare, recalling the costly spices brought by the Wise Men. Another English Epiphany dessert is the jam tart, but made into a six-point star for the occasion to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and thus called Epiphany tart. The discerning English cook will try to use thirteen different colored jams on the tart on this day for luck, creating a dessert with the appearance of stained glass.[40]

In Finland, Epiphany is called Loppiainen, a name which goes back to the 1600s. In the 1500s the Swedish-Finnish Lutheran church called Epiphany "Day of the Holy Three Kings", while before this, the older term Epiphania was used. In the Karelian language Epiphany is called Vieristä, meaning cross, from the Orthodox custom of submerging a cross three times to bless water on this day.[41] Today, in the Lutheran church, Epiphany is a day dedicated to a focus on missionary work in addition the Wisemen narrative. Between the years 1973 and 1991 Epiphany was observed in Finland on a Saturday each year no earlier than January 6, and no later than January 12. After that time however, the traditional date of January 6 was restored and has since been observed once again as a national public holiday. Piparkakut or Finnish spice cookies are a dish typically served on this day, especially when cut into the shape of a star. These cookies are broken in the palm of one's hand, while making a silent wish. If on Epiphany a Piparkakut star should break into three pieces, and all three be eaten without speaking a word, it is said that the wish will come true. While the term Loppiainen means "ending of Christmas time" in reality, Christmas celebrations in Finland are extended to Nuutti or St. Canute's Day on January 13, completing the Scandinavian Twenty Days of Christmas.

In France at Epiphany, people eat the gâteau des Rois in Provence (made of brioche) or the galette des Rois (puff pastry with almond cream) in the northern half of France and Belgium. This is a kind of king cake, with a trinket (usually a porcelain figurine of a king) or a bean hidden inside. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes "king" for a day.

Star Singers visit German President Carstens (1982)

In the German speaking lands, groups of young people called "Sternsinger" (star singers) travel from door to door. They are dressed as the three Wise Men, plus the leader carrying a star, usually of painted wood attached to a broom handle. Often these groups are four girls, or two boys and two girls for the benefit of singing their songs in four part harmony, not necessarily three wise men at all. German Lutherans often note in a lighthearted fashion that the Bible never specifies that the "Weisen" (Magi) were men, or that there were three. The star singers will be offered treats at the homes they visit, but they also solicit donations for worthy causes, such a efforts to end hunger in Africa, organized jointly by the Catholic and Evangelical-Lutheran churches.[42] As a sign of gratitude the young people then perform the traditional house blessing, by marking the year over the doorway with chalk. In Roman Catholic communities this may be a serious spiritual event with the priest present even today, but among Protestants it is more a tradition, and a part of the German notion of Gemütlichkeit. Usually on the Sunday following Epiphany, these donations are brought into churches. Here all of the children who have gone out as star singers, once again in their costumes, form a procession of sometimes dozens of wise men and stars. The German Chancellor and Parliament also receive a visit from the star singers at Epiphany.[43] Germans eat a Three Kings cake which may be a golden pastry ring filled with orange and spice representing gold, frankincense and myrrh. More often in West Germany and Switzerland, these cakes take the form of Buchteln but for Epiphany, studded with citron, and baked as seven large buns in a round rather than square pan, forming a crown. Or they may be made of typical rich Christmas bread dough with cardamom and pearl sugar in the same seven bun crown shape. These varieties are most typically purchased in supermarkets with the trinket, and gold paper crown included.[44] As in other countries, the person who receives the piece or bun containing the trinket or whole almond becomes the king or queen for a day. Epiphany is also an especially joyful occasion for the young and young at heart as this is the day dedicated to plündern - that is, when Christmas trees are "plundered" of their cookies and sweets by eager children (and adults) and when gingerbread houses, and any other good things left in the house from Christmas are devoured.[45] Lastly, there is a German rhyme saying, or "Bauernregel", that goes "Ist's bis Dreikönigs kein Winter, kommt keiner dahinter" meaning "If there hasn't been any Winter (weather) until Epiphany, none is coming afterward." [46] Another of these "Bauernregel", (German farmer's rules) for Epiphany states: "Dreikönigsabend hell und klar, verspricht ein gutes Weinjahr" or "If the eve of Epiphany is bright and clear, it fortells a good wine year." [46]

In Greece, Cyprus and the Greek diaspora throughout the world, the feast is colloquially called the "Phōta" (Greek: Φώτα, "Lights") and customs revolve around the Great Blessing of the Waters. It marks the end of the traditional ban on sailing, as the tumultuous winter seas are cleansed of the mischief-prone "kalikántzaroi", the goblins that try to torment God-fearing Christians through the festive season. At this ceremony, a cross is also thrown into the water, and the men present clamour to retrieve it for good luck. The Phota form the middle of another festive triduum, together with Epiphany Eve, January 6 (and eve of January 5), when children sing the Epiphany carols, and the great feast of St. John the Baptist on January 7 (and eve of January 6), when the numerous Johns and Joans celebrate their name-day.

Celebrations in Guadeloupe have a different feel from elsewhere in the world. Epiphany here does not mean the last day of Christmas celebrations, but rather the first day of Kannaval (Carnival), which lasts until the evening before Ash Wednesday. Carnival in turn ends with the grand brilé Vaval, the burning of Vaval, the king of the Kannaval, amidst the cries and wails of the crowd. [47]

In parts of southern India the Epiphany is called the Three Kings Festival and is celebrated in front of the church like a fair. Families come together and cook sweet rice porridge called Pongal. This day marks the close of the Advent and Christmas season and people remove the cribs and nativity sets at home. In Goa Epiphany may be locally known by its Portuguese name Festa dos Reis. Celebrations include a widely attended procession, with boys arrayed as the Three Kings, leading to the Franciscan Chapel of the Magi near the Goan capital of Panjim.[48] Other popular Epiphany processions are held in Chandor. Here three young boys in regal robes and splendid crowns descend the nearby hill of Our Lady of Mercy on horseback. They travel toward the main church where a three hour festival mass is celebrated. The route before them is decorated with streamers, palm leaves and balloons with the smallest children present lining the way, shouting greetings to the Magi. The Kings are traditionally chosen, one each, from Chandor's three hamlets - Kott, Cavorim and Gurdolim - whose residents helped build Chandor’s church in 1645. In the past the kings were chosen only from among high-caste families, but since 1946 the celebration has been open to all regardless of social difference. Participation is still expensive as it involves getting a horse, vestments befitting a king, and providing a lavish buffet to the village people afterwards, in all totaling some 100,000 rupees (about US$ 2,250) per king. However this is undertaken gladly since having son serve as a king is considered a great honor, and a blessing on the family.[49] Cansaulim in South Goa, is similarly famous for its Three Kings festival. Three boys are selected from the three neighboring Villages of Quelim, Cansaulim and Arrosim to present the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in a procession. Only a son or grandson of these villages may serve as king; no outsider may claim this honor and privilege. Throughout the year excitement runs high in the villages to see who will be chosen. The young kings are meticulously groomed for the roles, and must grow their hair long in time for the festival. Crowds gather from all parts of Goa, and around globe, to attend the Mass and get a glimpse of the three kings, while a fair springs up on the nearby hillside of Our Lady of Cures, at which almost anything can be purchased, a draw to tourists and locals alike. The procession involves the three kings in jeweled red velvet robes and crowns. They ride white horses decked with flowers and fine cloth, are shaded by colorful parasols, and are accompanied by hundreds of local people in retinue who follow the kings on their way to Bethlehem.[50][51] The procession ends at the local church constructed in 1581. In its central window a large white star hangs, and banners stream out across the square from those around it, like rays of starlight in every color of the rainbow. Inside, the church will have been decorated with garlands made of the blossoms of thousands of fragrant and colorful flowers. Here, after presenting their gifts, and reverencing the altar and Nativity scene, the kings take special seats of honor and assist at the High Mass.[52]

Epiphany is known by its Syriac name, 'Dehna' among the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala State, India. Saint Thomas Christians, like other Eastern Christians, celebrate Denha (Epiphany) as a great feast to commemorate the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. The liturgical season Denhakalam (Weeks of Epiphany) commemorates the second revelation at the Baptism and the following public life of Jesus. Denha is celebrated on January 6 by the Syro-Malabar Church, the largest Church of the Thomas Christians, in two ways - Pindiperunnal ("Plantain trunk feast") and Rakkuliperunal ("feast with a night bath").[53]

The Irish call Epiphany Little Christmas or "Women's Christmas" (Irish: Nollaig na mBan). On the feast of the Three Kings the women of Ireland in times gone by had a bit of rest and celebration for themselves, after the cooking and work of the Christmas holidays. It has long been a custom for women to gather this day for a special high tea, but on the occasion of Epiphany accompanied by wine, to honor the Miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Today Irish women may spend the day shopping, take a meal at a restaurant or spend the evening at gathering in a pub. Women may also receive gifts from children, grandchildren or other family members on this day. Other Epiphany customs, which symbolize the end of the Christmas season, are popular in Ireland, such as the burning the sprigs of Christmas holly in the fireplace which have been used as decorations during the past twelve days.[54]

There are varying stories about Epiphany and Italy. According to the Roman author Macrobius,[not in citation given] and English antiquarian John Brand, the word "Epiphania" was transformed into Befana, the great fair held at that season, when sigillaria of terracotta or baked pastry were sold.[55][56][57] In popular folklore, Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of January 6 to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. In other regions, especially Sicily, the South, and Abruzzo children may look forward instead to a visit from the Three Wise men themselves, a sign of the region's historical ties to Spain.

Epiphany is know in Latvia as Trijkungu diena (Thee Kings Day) or Zvaigžņu diena (Star Day) after the custom of star singing, and the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to the Christ Child.[58] In the past bright stars of fabric were sewn onto the background of dark colored quilts, representing the night sky. Epiphany was a day of enjoyment, spent in horse-drawn open sleighs, and these quilts would then be taken along to cover the laps of the merry riders.[59] If Epiphany Day was bright and mild and the sun “warmed the horses’ backs” it was said that the coming year would bring only peace. If the night before Epiphany saw clear starry skies, it meant Latvia could expect a fine harvest in the coming Summer. Weaving and wood-cutting were “bad luck", giving both men and women a proper holiday, and if a dog was heard barking on Epiphany one ought to look for his or her future spouse in that same direction. Special three corner apple cakes are eaten on this day, and as in other countries, star singing, visiting and house blessings have long been popular.[60]

Epiphany is the time for bonfires in Macedonia, to symbolize the light of Christ. These are very festive gatherings, and hot mulled wine and brandy are served. [61]

In Malta, Epiphany is commonly known as It-Tre Re (The Three Kings). Until the 1980s, January 6 was a public holiday, but today the Maltese are celebrating Epiphany on the first Sunday of the year. Children and students still take January 6 as a school holiday and Christmas decorations are lit up through this day on most public streets. The Maltese also have a long-standing custom of presenting concerts in honor of Epiphany, including the prestigious annual Epiphany Concert organized by the Malta Council for Culture and Arts, performed by the National Orchestra. In 2010, the Epiphany Concert which used to be held before a select audience, was opened to the general public following a decision by the President. The Ministry of Education and Culture therefore moved from the venue from the Palace in Valletta to the historic Sacra Infermeria, also known as the Mediterranean Conference Centre.[62] Qagħaq tal-Għasel or tal-Qastanija (Maltese honey rings) are typically served at Epiphany in Malta.

Mexico and Guatemala share Epiphany customs with the rest of Latin America and Spain, including gifts for children from the Wise Men, and "Rosca de Reyes" or Three Kings Cake. (See below: Spain, etc.) In Mexico and Guatemala however, the person who finds the doll in their piece of rosca must throw a party on February 2, "Candelaria Day," offering tamales and atole (a hot sweet drink thickened with corn flour) to the guests. In Mexico it is traditional for children to leave their shoes, along with a letter with toy requests for the Three Kings, by the family nativity scene or by their beds. In some parts of northern Mexico the shoes and letters are left under the Christmas tree. The shoes may be filled with hay for the camels, so that the Kings will be generous with their gifts.

Peru shares Epiphany customs with Spain and the rest of Latin America. Peruvian national lore holds that Francisco Pizarro was the first to call Lima "Ciudad de los Reyes" (City of the Kings) because the date of the Epiphany coincided with the day he and his two companions searched for, and found, an ideal location for a new capital. Even more popular in Peru than gift giving is the custom of the "Bajada de Reyes" when parties are held in honor of the taking down of family and public nativity scenes, and carefully putting them away until the next Christmas.[63]

In the Philippines, the Christmas season traditionally ends on this day, known colloquially as "Three Kings" or "Tres Reyes" (Filipino: Tatlong Hari). Filipino children also leave their shoes out, so that the Kings will leave behind gifts like candy or money inside. Most others on this day simply greet one another with the phrase "Happy Three Kings!". In some localities, there is the practice of having three men, dressed as the Tatlong Hari, ride around on horseback, distributing trinkets and candy to the children of the area. The collective name for the group is immortalised as the Filipino surname Tatlonghari. Meanwhile the Spanish name for Epiphany has survived to the present in the Philippines as the masculine given name Epifanio (e.g. Epifanio de los Santos).

Traditional house blessing in Chalk

In Poland Epiphany, or Trzech Kroli (Three Kings) is celebrated in grand fashion, with huge parades held welcoming the Wisemen, often riding on camels or other animals from the zoo, in Warsaw and other cities. The Wisemen pass out sweets, children process in Renaissance wear, carols are sung, and living nativity scenes are enacted, all similar to celebrations in Italy or Spain, pointing to the country’s Catholic heritage. Children may also dress in colors signifying Europe, Asia, and Africa (the supposed homes of the Wisemen) and at the end of the parade route, church leaders often preach on the spiritual significance of the Epiphany.[64] In 2011, by an act of Parliament, Epiphany was restored as an official non-working national public holiday in Poland for the first time since it was cancelled under communism fifty years before.[65] Star singing and house blessing are popular in Poland, as in the rest of Central Europe. Poles though take small boxes containing chalk, a gold ring, incense and a piece of amber, in memory of the gifts of the Magi, to church to be blessed. Once at home, they inscribe the year and "+K+M+B" with the blessed chalk above every door in the house, according to tradition, to provide protection against illness and misfortune for those within. The letters, with a cross after each one, are said to stand either for the traditionally applied names of the Three Kings - Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar - or for a Latin inscription meaning “Christ bless this house.” They remain above the doors all year until they are inadvertently dusted off or replaced by new markings the next year.[66] On January 6, as in much of Europe, a Polish style Three Kings cake is served with a coin or almond baked inside. The one who gets it is king or queen for the day, signified by wearing the paper crown that decorates the cake. According to Polish tradition this person will be lucky in the coming year. Recipes vary by region. Some serve a French-type puff pastry cake with almond paste filling, others favor a sponge cake with almond cream filling, and yet others enjoy a light fruitcake. Epiphany in Poland also signals the beginning of “zapusty” or carnival time, when “Pączki” (doughnuts) are served.[67]

In Portugal, Epiphany, January 6, is called dia dos Reis (Day of the Kings), during which the traditional Bolo Rei (King cake) is baked and eaten. Plays and pageants are popular on this day, and parents often hold parties for their children. Epiphany is also a time when the traditional Portuguese dances known as Mouriscadas and Paulitos are performed. The latter is an elaborate stick dance. The dancers, who are usually men but may be dressed as women, manipulate sticks or staves (in imitation swords) in two opposing lines.[68] It is a tradition too in Portugal for people to gather in small groups and to go from house to house to sing the “Reis” (meaning "Kings") which are traditional songs about the life of Jesus. The singers also bring greetings to the owners of the house. After singing for a while outside, they are invited in, and the owners of the house offer them sweets, liqueurs, and other Epiphany delicacies. These “Reis” usually begin on Epiphany eve and last until January 20. [69]

In Puerto Rico, it is traditional for children to fill a box with fresh grass or hay and put it underneath their bed, for the Wise men's camels. The three kings will then take the grass to feed the camels and will leave gifts under the bed as a reward. These traditions are analogous to the customs of children leaving mince pies and sherry out for Father Christmas in Western Europe or leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus in the United States. In the afternoon or evening of the same day the ritual of the Rosca de reyes is shared with family and friends. The Rosca (or in Spain, Roscón) is a type of pastry made with orange blossom water and butter, and decorated with candied fruit. Baked inside is a small doll representing the baby Jesus.[70]

Star boys. Postage stamp depicting traditional Christmas & Epiphany star singing in Moldova.

In Romania and Moldova, Epiphany, or Boboteaza, celebrations take on a unique tone. Following religious services, men participate in winter horse races. Before the race, the men line up with their horses before the priest who will bless them by sprinkling them with green branches that have been dipped into Epiphany holy water. Sometimes people desire to have this blessing for themselves as well.[36] Winning the Epiphany race is a great honor for both horse and rider, while the post-race celebrations, win or not, are highly festive. As in other Orthodox heritage countries, water rites also play a special role on this day.[71] A unique piece of Romanian folk wisdom holds that if a girl slips on ice - or better yet falls into water- on Epiphany, she will surely marry before the year is out.[72] In Transylvania and the Siebenbürgen, Lutheran and Reformed Christians of Hungarian and Saxon descent celebrate Epiphany with star singing and house blessing, as in Central Europe. The star singing custom too though had long ago spread throughout Romania and Moldova. Here the stars, called Steaua, today resemble stained glass lanterns and feature an orthodox icon at their center, a tradition pointing to the rich blending of both East and West which characterize the two nations on the river Prut.[73]

The Epiphany, celebrated in Russia on January 19, marks the baptism of Jesus in the Orthodox Church. Believing that on this day water becomes holy and is imbued with special powers, Russians all over the country cut holes in the ice of lakes and rivers, often in the shape of the cross, to bathe in the freezing water.[74] Participants in the ritual may dip themselves three times under the water, honoring the Holy Trinity, to symbolically wash away their sins from the past year, and to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth. Orthodox priests are on hand to bless the water, and rescuers are on hand to monitor the safety of the swimmers in the ice-cold water. Other less intrepid Russians may limit their participation in the Epiphany rites to those conducted inside churches, where priests perform the Great Blessing of Waters, both on Epiphany Eve and Epiphany (Theophany) proper. The water is then distributed to attendees who may store it to use in times of illness, to bless themselves, family members, and their homes, or to drink. Some Russians think any water - even from the taps on the kitchen sink - poured or bottled on Epiphany becomes holy water, since all the water in the world is blessed this day. In the more mild climate of the southern city of Sochi meanwhile, where air and water temperatures both hover in the low to mid fifty degree range Fahrenheit in January, thousands of people jump into the Black Sea at midnight each year on Epiphany and begin to swim in celebration of the feast.[75]

In Slovenia, especially in the Western part of the country, during the first day of the year and on Epiphany, children go from house to house because villagers will give them almonds, dried figs, nuts, cookies or other good things that they have at home.[76]

In Spain and some Latin American countries (including the Puerto Rican territory in the Caribbean), and other countries Epiphany day is called El Día de los Reyes (The Day of the Kings), i.e., the day when a group of Kings or Magi, as related in the second chapter of the gospel of Matthew, arrived to worship and bring three gifts to the baby Jesus after following a star in the heavens. This day is sometimes known as the Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (The day of the Three Royal Magi) or La Pascua de los Negros (Holy Day of the Black men) in Chile, although the latter is rarely heard. In Spanish tradition on January 6, three of the Kings: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar, representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa, arrived on horse, camel and elephant, bringing respectively gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. Children (and many adults) polish and leave their shoes ready for the Kings' presents before they go to bed on the eve of January 6. Sweet wine, nibbles, fruit and milk are left for the Kings and their camels. In Spain children typically receive presents on this day, rather than on Christmas. In Spain the Epiphany bread is known as Roscón.

In the United States, in Colorado around Manitou Springs, Epiphany is marked by the Great Fruitcake Toss. Fruitcakes are thrown, participants dress as kings, fools, etc., and competitions are held for the farthest throw, the most creative projectile device, etc. As with customs in other countries, the fruitcake toss is a sort of festive symbolic leave-taking of the Christmas holidays until next year, but with humorous twist, since fruitcake (although the traditional Christmas bread of America, England and other English speaking nations) is considered in the United States with a certain degree of derision, and is the source of many jokes.[77][78]

In Louisiana, Epiphany is the beginning of the Carnival season, during which it is customary to bake King Cakes, similar to the Rosca mentioned above. It is round in shape, filled with cinnamon, glazed white, and coated in traditional carnival color sanding sugar. The person who finds the doll (or bean) must provide the next king cake. The interval between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as "king cake season", and many may be consumed during this period. The Carnival season begins on King's Day (Epiphany), and there are many traditions associated with that day in Louisiana and along the Catholic coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. King cakes are first sold then, Carnival krewes begin having their balls on that date, and the first New Orleans krewe parades in street cars that night.

In Colonial Virginia Epiphany, or 12th Night, was an occasion of great merriment, and was considered especially appropriate as a date for balls and dancing, as well as for weddings.[79] On 12th Night, Great Cake was prepared, consisting in two giant layers of fruitcake, coated and filled with royal icing. Custom dictated that the youngest child present cut and serve the cake and whoever found the bean or prize in the Twelfth Night cake was crowned "King of the Bean" similar to the European king cake custom.[80]

On January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany has long been an important celebration in Wales, known there as Ystwyll. In Glamorganshire, a huge loaf or cake was prepared, which was then divided up into three parts to represent Christ, the Virgin Mary and the three Wise Men. A large company of neighbors was invited to be present at the dividing of the cake in which rings were concealed. Whoever discovered a ring in his piece of cake (or bread) was elected as King or Queen and presided over the day's festivities. January 6 was the old-calendar Christmas Day and many of the festivities connected with it lasted well over a century after the new calendar was introduced in 1752.[81] Wales shares other Twelfth Night customs with its neighbor, England, including the yule log, and the wassail to wish farmers a good harvest in the coming year, but here the yule log's ashes were saved then buried along with the seeds planted in the ensuing spring to ensure a good harvest, while the wassail bowl was taken to the house of newlyweds or to a family which had recently come to live in the district and songs sung outside the house door. Those inside the house would recite or sing special verses, to be answered by the revelers outside. Another Welsh custom associated with Epiphany was the Hunting of the Wren. A group of young men would go out into the countryside to capture a wren (the smallest bird in the British Isles). The bird would then be placed in a small, decorated cage and carried around from house to house and shown in exchange for money or gifts of food and drink (if a wren could not be found then a sparrow would have to undergo the ritual.) [82]

See also


  1. ^ Online Etymological Dictionary
  2. ^ .
  3. ^ Liddell and Scott:Θεοφάνεια
  4. ^ The Origins and Spirituality of the Epiphany
  5. ^ The Calendar of the Orthodox Church
  6. ^ The Julian Calendar
  7. ^ Roman Catholic Liturgical Calendar
  8. ^ Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: Epiphany Sunday
  9. ^ Cf. The Epiphany
  10. ^ a b c Liddell and Scott: ἐπιφάνεια
  11. ^ a b Blue Letter Bible - Lexicon
  12. ^ Nicholas Pokhilko, "History of Epiphany" Google.com.
  13. ^ Cyril Martindale, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 5 (Robert Appleton Company, New York 1905), s.v., Epiphany.
  14. ^ Paul F. Bradshaw (editor), The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (SCM Press 2002 ISBN 0-334-02883-3), p. 167
  15. ^ Craig S. Keener, Matthew, 1997, (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, USA), ISBN 0-8308-1801-4, page 65.
  16. ^ St John Chrysostom, Homilies on St Matthew, 7
  17. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus, XXI, ii.
  18. ^ Epiphanius, Panarion, li, 27, in Migne, Patrologia Graecae (P.G.), XLI, 936 (where it is called by its Latin name: Adversus Haereses)
  19. ^ Ibid., chapters xxviii and xxix P.G., XLI, 940 sq.
  20. ^ Egeria (1970), Diary of a Pilgrimage, Chapter 26, (tr. George E. Gingras) New York: Paulist Press, p. 96, ISBN 0-8091-0029-0 
  21. ^ St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration xxxviii in P.G., XXXVI. 312
  22. ^ Ibid., Orations xxxix and xl P.G., loc. cit.
  23. ^ Ibid. col. 349.
  24. ^ St. John Cassian, Conferences, X, 2, in Migne, Patrologia Latina (P.L.), XLIX; 820
  25. ^ a b Nicholas Pokhilko, History of Epiphany
  26. ^ "Today the Church has been joined to here heavenly bridegroom, since Christ has purified her of her sins in the river Jordan: the Magi hasten to the royal wedding and offer gifts: the wedding guests rejoice since Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia" (Benedictus antiphon, Liturgy of the Hours, Roman Rite). "Three wonders mark this day we celebrate: today the star led the Magi to the manger; today water was changed into wine at the marriage feast; today Christ desired to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation, alleluia" (Magnificat antiphon at Second Vespers, Liturgy of the Hours, Roman Rite).
  27. ^ a b "Proclamation of the Date of Easter at Epiphany", 1970 Roman Missal, The Catholic Liturgical Library, 1989, http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/TextContents/Index/4/TextIndex/13, retrieved 2008-05-18 
  28. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW5w6846m3o
  29. ^ http://events.kansas.com/wichita-ks/events/show/159094705-epiphany-service
  30. ^ http://hillsborofumc.com/?p=1293
  31. ^ The Feasts of the Church Year.
  32. ^ Christmas in the Old Country
  33. ^ Nicholas Pokhilko, The Meaning of Water in Christianity
  34. ^ On Holy Water by St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco
  35. ^ St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Christian Baptism in P.G., XLIX, 363.
  36. ^ a b http://www.picnik.com/show/id/6697760637_gBMQG/t/epiphany-theophany-2010
  37. ^ http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=72112
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  41. ^ http://www.finnguide.fi/calendar/publicbankinfo.asp?month=1&p=3
  42. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzg_8RzjQXA
  43. ^ http://www.abendblatt.de/politik/deutschland/article1329179/108-Koenige-zu-Gast-bei-der-Kanzlerin.html
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  46. ^ a b http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauernregel
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  52. ^ http://www.bharatonline.com/goa/festivals/feast-of-three-kings.html
  53. ^ http://www.nasranifoundation.org/articles/xmas_denha.html
  54. ^ http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/acalend/NewYears.html
  55. ^ Macrobius s. I, x, xxiv; II, xlix
  56. ^ Brand, John (1777). Popular Antiquities. pp. 180, 183
  57. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Epiphany New Advent
  58. ^ Baister, Stephen; Patrick, Chris (2007-11-01), Latvia, ISBN 9781841622019, http://books.google.com/?id=98em68M_SmsC&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=Epiphany+Latvia#v=onepage&q=Epiphany%20Latvia&f=false. 
  59. ^ http://www.liis.lv/ziema/svetki_un_dienas/zvaigznes.htm
  60. ^ http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Zvaigznes_Diena
  61. ^ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/06/epiphany-three-kings-day-photos_n_805245.html#s219882&title=undefined
  62. ^ http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20091222/local/epiphany-concert-opened-to-the-public
  63. ^ http://celebrandonavidad.blogspot.com/2008/01/la-bajada-de-reyes.html
  64. ^ http://www.thenews.pl/national/artykul146877_epiphany-returns-as-public-holiday-in-poland.html
  65. ^ http://www.qppstudio.net/public-holidays-news/2010/poland_003882.htm
  66. ^ http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/polishchristmastraditions/a/threekings.htm
  67. ^ http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/polishdesserts/r/kingcake.htm
  68. ^ http://www.answers.com/topic/epiphany-portugal-dia-de-reis
  69. ^ http://www.wickedlocal.com/hudson/news/x1599393688/Portuguese-Club-party-will-be-fit-for-a-king
  70. ^ http://boriquablog.wordpress.com/?s=Three+Kings
  71. ^ http://pocketcultures.com/topicsoftheworld/2010/01/07/boboteaza/
  72. ^ http://www.crestinortodox.ro/datini-obiceiuri-superstitii/traditii-obiceiuri-boboteaza-68744.html
  73. ^ http://www.roembus.org/english/communities/copii/romanian_winter_season_tradition.htm#The Star Carol *Steaua
  74. ^ http://goeasteurope.about.com/od/moscowtravel/ss/moscowchristmasphotos_7.htm
  75. ^ http://en.rian.ru/russia/20100119/157616503.html
  76. ^ http://www.slovenska-istra.si/?lang=3
  77. ^ http://www.colorado-for-free.com/FreeThingsToDoColorado/FruitcakeToss.htm
  78. ^ http://www.gone-ta-pott.com/fruitcake_toss_day.html
  79. ^ http://www.history.org/visit/christmas/hist_customs.cfm
  80. ^ http://www.history.org/visit/christmas/hist_longchristmas.cfm
  81. ^ "Some folks decided that 'Old Christmas Eve', which fell 11 days later on 4th January 1753, should be celebrated. ... the difference between the two calendars increased to 12 days after February 1800 and then to 13 days a century later. Thus shifting Old Christmas Eve to 5th January and then to 6th January" (The Change to the Gregorian Calendar in England, Wales and Scotland).
  82. ^ http://www.britannia.com/wales/culture2.html

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