The feast of the Epiphany is January 6th, twelve days after Christmas. It officially ends the “twelve days of Christmas” from which we get that carol “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”. In the Western churches (including the Episcopal Church), Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men from the East to the Christ child in Bethlehem.
Epiphany means "manifestation" or "revelation" or "appearing". It makes sense that Epiphany season comes right after Christmas. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus; Epiphany is about the spread of the good news to the wider world.
For the Eastern Churches, this celebration mixes together both the visitation of the Wise Men and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Both of these are events that manifest the divinity of Christ to the wider world. In the Eastern Churches, Epiphany is called “Theophany”, which means basically the “shining-forth” of God.
The Season of Epiphany in our church continues until February 2, the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple.
The Feast of the Epiphany centers on the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem. In the Christmas story that St. Matthew tells us, wise men from the East study the stars and the prophecies, and detect the birth of the Savior. They travel to Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus Christ, and they bring with them gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh.
The Gospel account doesn't say that there are three magi, nor that they are kings. Over the years, our Christian ancestors described them as three kings named Balthesar, Melchior, and Caspar (although in different cultures they have different names!)
Read the story of the Magi in the gospel of Matthew 2:1-12.
The painting at the top of the page is James Tissot's "Journey of the Magi".
The Epiphany Proclamation
Another Epiphany tradition is the Solemn Proclamation which is read at the Eucharists on Epiphany. Easter is on a different Sunday each year, depending on the date of the spring equinox and the full moon following it. Many important church commemorations depend on the date of Easter, like Ash Wednesday and Pentecost. In a time before printed calendars and the Internet, Epiphany was the day to proclaim, basically, the dates of that year's important feasts and holy days.