What is Epiphany?

Matt Comer   -  

Welcome to the first installment of Faithfully Asked Questions, a new digital engagement series for St. Stephen. In each installment, we’ll provide answers to common questions of faith. Journey along as we explore the meanings behind various holidays or rituals of the church, the histories underlying our favorite hymns, saints, or church leaders, and other common questions about Christian life.

When and where we can, as you’ll see in this first edition, we’ll weave in special stories connecting our questions to life right here at St. Stephen.

Many thanks to Ann Shaughnessy who contributed content to this post, provided historical background, and photos, and who inspired this first Faithfully Asked Questions installment.

Have a question you want answered? Have a story to contribute? Email Matt at mcomer@ststephenumc.net.

What is Epiphany?

Epiphany is the Christian holiday that wraps up our larger Christmas celebrations. Epiphany is celebrated each year on Jan. 6. Also known as Three Kings’ Day, Epiphany (or, more accurately Epiphany Eve) has yet another name: Twelfth Night. Yes, as in the Twelve Days of Christmas. For centuries, Christians have commemorated Christmas with a 12-day celebration, beginning with Christ’s birth and ending with Epiphany. Between these two feasts, the church has historically remembered St. Stephen, the first martyr and one of the church’s first deacons, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. On the eighth day following Christmas, the church remembers the day Christ was presented at the temple for his naming and circumcision.

Why is Epiphany important?

The word “epiphany” originates in the Greek word “epiphaneia,” which means manifestation or appearance. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus and the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. The holiday helps us remember the universal nature of Jesus’ message of salvation, emphasizing Christ’s role as Savior not only for Israel but for all humanity.

How is Epiphany celebrated?

The holiday is celebrated in many ways across the globe. Children give and receive gifts, remembering the way Jesus was given gifts by the Magi. Parades and processions are held. In many Spanish- and French-speaking countries or cultures, celebrations are marked with parties and “Three Kings’ Cake.” In Louisiana, for example, king cake is highly associated with Mardi Gras and is often served from Epiphany and through the Carnival season leading up to Lent. Many times, a small baby figurine representing Jesus is hidden in the cake, symbolizing the Holy Family’s need to flee and hide from Herod.

Epiphany and St. Stephen

You won’t find parades, processions, or king cake here at St. Stephen, but we do have our own special way of remembering Epiphany: our a unique, hand-made Moravian Star hanging in the sanctuary each Advent and Christmas season.

The Moravian Star is identified by its signature multi-pointed shape. Often lit from the interior, as ours is at St. Stephen, the Moravian Star symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, which led the Magi to Jesus. The Moravian Star originated in the Moravian Church and in Germany during the 19th century as a creative activity for children during Advent. It made its way to Winston-Salem, originally a Moravian settlement, and the greater Piedmont region. It has since grown into a popular decorative item for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Ten years ago, St. Stephen’s old star needed to be replaced. Through a contact here at the church, we found out about a gentleman who helps congregations make their own stars. Mr. Max Brady, from Home Moravian Church in Old Salem, donated all the materials and provided the guidance and assistance.

Approximately 20 St. Stephen members gathered on a Saturday in March 2013, to measure, cut, glue, and assemble the Moravian Star that we enjoy today. It was very tedious work. We had some great fellowship and were very pleased with our results. We were even entertained by members of the Moravian band from Old Salem while we worked. It was such a fun project and a great learning experience!