Epiphany is a public holiday in Greece and comes every 6 January, which is 12 days after Christmas. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, and it also has reference to the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Orthodox countries like Greece put the emphasis on Jesus’ baptism, whereas Catholic and Protestant traditions emphasise the arrival of the Wise Men.
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Epiphany is among the oldest of all Christian holidays, having been continually celebrated since the 2nd Century A.D. The word “epiphany” means “manifestation,” and it is also sometimes called Theophany, meaning “manifestation of God.” This has reference to Jesus being “God manifest in the flesh” and to the voice from Heaven saying “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” at His baptism. Thus, this was a time of manifestation of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. It was also a time of Jesus’ committal to dying on the cross and rising again, which baptism symbolised.
As to the Wise Men, they came from afar to honour Jesus as the coming King of Kings, guided by a star that led them to Bethlehem. Their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were presents fit for a king.
All across Greece, you can attend special Epiphany services, where the religious significance of the day will be highlighted. The most notable ceremony of Epiphany, however, takes place outside the church building. At Piraeus, the port city serving Athens, a priest traditionally will cast an over-sized cross into the harbour to “sanctify” the water.
Men will then dive in after it to keep it from floating away, though nowadays, a handy chain is attached as well. Whoever retrieves the cross is sure to have good luck all year long, and the sanctifying of the waters “drives away the evil spirits that inhabit them”. Similar events take place in other parts of Greece, but Piraeus has the largest of these ceremonies.