1. The word
The word Epiphany comes from the Greek word for manifestation or appearance and refers to the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Epiphany (also called Theofania or Fota), is celebrated on 6 January and is a day of joy and brightness, as Christians celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist. It also celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi or Three Kings (Matthew 2:1–12).
In Greece, the most important ritual is the “blessing of the waters” performed by a Greek Priest. It also often held near the sea or by a lake. The priest throws a special cross into the waters and swimmers dive into the water to recover it. The one who finds the cross and returns it to the priest will be the blessed person of the year.
It is believed that the lights “Fota” of Epiphany will chase away the kalikantzaroi (goblins) back to the middle of the earth for another year. The kalikantzaroi only reappear at Christmas after Christ’s birth and remain on earth until Christ is baptised on Epiphany. In those two weeks they can be kept away by making ensuring there is a constant fire burning in the fireplace.
The fota kalanta are carols specific to the celebration of Epiphany and are usually sung by children in exchange for sweets or money.
‘Ragoutsaria’ celebrations kick off on 6 January and run through to 8 January in the northern Greek cities such as Kastoria and Kozani. The centuries-old custom revives ancient Dionysian rites with celebrations kicking off on the day of Epiphany. The festive atmosphere includes a dancing frenzy in the street with different groups participating with their own costumes. People also go from house to house singing carols, and often wear scary masks to exorcise evil spirits from their cities. Costumes must feature a groom and bride (man dressed as a woman); a priest, a grandfather and ‘arkoudiarides’ (men who trained bears to dance for money up until the 1970s). The festivities culminate on 8 January with the Paterista, the celebration of Saint Dominique, who is honoured with a great carnival parade. Crowds and spectators gather in Doltso, the old medieval square.
In Halkidiki, the Fortarades ritual features a king dressed in a ‘talagani’, a shepherd’s cape who carries bells and leads the dance. The other ‘Fotarades’ hold swords made of wood to prevent anyone from trying to steal a sausage placed in the middle of a circle. On the eve of Epiphany, young men sing kalanta and receive meat sausages and money for their efforts. The day after Epiphany, on the feast of John the Baptist, they also dance traditional dances in the village square.
In Patmos the kalanda are of a strictly religious character and their themes span God’s creation of the world and its waters and usually end with the day of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist at the banks of the River Jordan.
In Cyprus, Epiphany also coincides with the feast day of Saint Theofania. Larnaca is said to hold the biggest celebrations on the island state. On Epiphany it is also traditional for the older people to wash their fruit and vegetables in blessed seawater for a bountiful harvest in the autumn.
9. Name Days
A number of people celebrate their name day on and around Epiphany Day on 6 January. Names include derivatives of Theofania (Theano, Theofanis, Fanis, Fani, Fenia, Fania, Fanoula) and Foton (Fotis, Fotoula, Fotini, Fay, Fofo, Fiona). St John’s name day is celebrated the day after with names such as John, Yiannis, Gianna celebrating Epiphany.
10. In Australia
Theofania is celebrated all around Australia. In Melbourne, blessing ceremonies take place in Frankston, Rosebud and Port Melbourne. Check out our What’s On? section for more details.