The earliest Christian celebrated Epiphany as one of the three primary holy days of the liturgical year. Deriving from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “appearance” or “coming,” Epiphany more so than Christmas celebrated the manifestaton of divinity on earth through Jesus Christ. The celebrations that occurred during Epiphany found their origins not only in Jesus’ birth but also his baptism and his first recorded miracle, the turning of the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. For Christians in the East, Epiphany remains the primary holy day in this season.
As Christianity developed, those of the West focused more specifically on the birth narratives and began to associate the celebration of the Incarnation primarliy with Christmas. Epiphany became a less celebrated holiday and focused mainly on the journey of the Magi, the wise ones, to honor the newborn Jesus. Western Christians began to observe the celebration of Jesus’ baptism on the Sunday following Epiphany.
It is not necessary to choose one meaning of Epiphany over another. The traditions of both East and West remind us that our journey does not end on Christmas Day; rather, it begins there. Often we in the West forget that Christmas in not one day but twelve. Even when Epiphany, the last day, passes, it has but prepared us for the journey through the year to come.
Jan L. Richardson, Sacred Journey: A Woman’s Book of Daily Prayer.