January 6, 2012

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The Customs And Traditions Of Epiphany Day In Greece And All Over The World (VIDEOS)

Epiphany Day or Theophania (Theophany) or Fota (the most  common word for this celebration) means "vision of God", which falls on January 6, and is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. 

Theophania is the Feast which reveals the Most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord. God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by the St. John the Forerunner, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. From ancient times this Feast was called the Day of Illumination and the Feast of Lights, since God is Light and has appeared to illumine "those who sat in darkness," and "in the region of the shadow of death" and to save the fallen race of mankind by grace.  

Also on this day the  Orthodox Church performs a Great Blessing of the Waters. In the Greek practice, the clergy casts a cross into the water. If swimming is feasible on the spot, any number of brave volunteers attempt to recover the cross and 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. 

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 uncorrupted, a miracle attested to as early as St. John Chrysostom.

UNITED STATES - Similar ceremonies are held in other cities and countries where the Christian  faith is strong. Such as in Tarpon Springs in Florida where there is a strong Greek Orthodox community, and believe it or not in Louisiana as well. Incidentally, Epiphany is the beginning of the Carnival season in this southern state. 

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE - Believing that on this day water becomes holy and is imbued with special powers, Russians and Ukrainians cut holes in the ice of lakes and rivers, often in the shape of the cross, to bathe in the freezing water. 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 and Ukrainians 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 10 degree Celsius range 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. 

GUADELOUPE - 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. 

INDIA - In parts of southern India, Epiphany is called the Three Kings Festival and is celebrated in front of the local church like a fair. 

IRELAND - The Irish call Epiphany Little Christmas or "Women's Christmas". 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. 

ITALY - There are varying stories about Epiphany and Italy. According to the Roman author Macrobius, 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. In popular folklore, Befana visits the children of parts of Italy on the eve of January 6 to fill their socks with candy and presents if they had been good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they had been 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. 

LATVIA - In Latvia Epiphany Day is known 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. 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. 

MALTA - In Malta, and 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. 

PERU - 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. 

PHILIPPINES - In the Philippines, the long 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. 

POLAND - In Poland, Epiphany, or Trzech Kroli (Three Kings) is celebrated in grand fashion, with huge parades held welcoming the Wise Men, often riding on camels or other animals from the zoo, in Warsaw and other cities. Epiphany in Poland also signals the beginning of “zapusty” or carnival time, when “Pączki” (doughnuts) are served. 

PORTUGAL - 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. 

PUERTO RICO - 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. 

ROMANIA AND 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. 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. 

SLOVENIA - 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. 

SPAIN - In Spain and some Latin American countries, Epiphany day is called El Día de los Reyes. In Spanish tradition 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. The next morning presents will appear under their shoes.

AUSTRALIA - Similar events are also held in Southern Australia.


In Greece, it is a National Holiday and celebrated with some very profound traditions all over the country.  Almost all over the country there are a number of beliefs connected with the Killikantzari (or little goblins), who appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany (January 6). Today, the Kalikantzaroi disappear during the celebration of the lights, after the waters are blessed.   

In eastern Macedonia, though, and especially in Drama, Epiphany Day is celebrated with a plethora of events that aim to bless the crops and livestock of all farmers so that they can have an abundant harvest later on in the year. In the town of Monastiraki, which is located four kilometers from the city of Drama the tradition of the "Arapides" is revived. The costumes used in this tradition include loud bells which are bound around the waste of the performers and said to be symbolic and are meant to ward off evil spirits. This is an interesting tradition since it has its roots in ancient Greece. Some say it is part of the belief in the twelve Gods, or is similar to the Dionysian rites, but with Christian influences. Watch the above video for more details.  

On the eve of Epiphany Day in New Karvali, east of Kavala, the "Sagias" custom is revived every year which has its roots in Cappadocia. Participants gather around a bonfire and celebrate the day by dancing and singing.  

One of the most popular customs of Epiphany Day is the "Ragoutsaria" custom which is revived every year in Kastoria. This is a strange custom which calls on participants to wear symbolic scary masks and roam the streets making deafening noises with the bells they carry with them. Then they begin visiting residents and ask for a gift to ward off the evil spirits from their homes. 

On the eve of the Epiphany Day in Ermioni, Argolida, residents decorate boats with palm trees, oranges and myrtle. In the morning and after the blessing of the waters, young lads who are ready to be drafted into the army wander about the town wearing traditional costumes and singing the naval song "gialo - gialo." 

On the island of Lefkada, a strange custom involving oranges is revived. Oranges are tied to believers who then have to dip into the waters. When they do a couple of laps, they apparently take the oranges home and leave the fruit near an icon. This is considered a blessing on the island.

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