Epiphany may be called the original celebration of Christmas. Its earliest associations were with the baptism of Jesus, but the reasons for the choice of January 6 are unclear. In the latter half of the fourth century the observance of the Epiphany was adopted in the West and the celebration of December 25 was accepted in the East. The themes were the birth of Jesus, the visit of the Magi, and the baptism of Jesus. A third event that is a traditional part of the Epiphany celebration is Jesus’ first sign at the marriage in Cana. Christ’s baptism reveals a profound respect for the elements of the natural world, of which the Eastern blessing of the waters of the earth is a prominent and dramatic example. The announcement of the feasts of the unfolding Church year is a feature of the Epiphany liturgy; another popular custom is the blessing of houses. Candlemas, February 2, brings to a close the Christmas cycle that began with Advent; the entire cycle has a significant eschatological thrust.
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