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Epiphany in the United States

Epiphany, commonly known as Three Kings’ Day in the United States, is on January 6. It celebrates the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus and also remembers his baptism, according to the Christian Bible’s events. The United States (US) Virgin Islands observe the day as a public holiday.

Is Epiphany a Public Holiday?

Epiphany is not a public holiday. It falls on Sunday, January 6, 2019 and most businesses follow regular Sunday opening hours in the United States.

Many Christians in the United States remember the three wise men's (or kings' ) visit to infant Jesus on Epiphany.

©iStockphoto.com/Jim Jurica

What Do People Do?

People from the US Virgin Islands celebrate Three Kings’ Day to emphasize and maintain their heritage and culture, especially on the island of St Croix where the day features parades, bands, food, music, and other types of entertainment. Although it is not a public holiday in other parts of the United States, many Christians take part in Epiphany activities such as:

  • Star processionals on the Sunday closest to January 6 for church services
  • Parties or get-togethers to clean up homes after the festive season and put away Christmas decorations.
  • Treasure hunts to find a figure of the Christ child.
  • Epiphany luncheons, parties and celebrations among churchgoers.
  • And Sunday school activities for children that focus on Epiphany, such as creating the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. 

Epiphany marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season in Louisiana. It is customary to bake king cakes during this time of the year. These cakes may include a small trinket (such as a baby doll) inside. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket receives various privileges or obligations. For example, they may be requested to provide the next king cake. The interval between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as “king cake season”.

Public Life

Epiphany is a public holiday in the US Virgin Islands so shops, government offices and businesses are closed. Some businesses may close early the day before the holiday. It is not a federal public holiday in the rest of the United States.

Background

Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts. It was celebrated since the end of the second century, before the Christmas holiday was established. It is commonly known as Twelfth Night, Twelfth Day, or the Feast of Epiphany. It means “manifestation” or “showing forth”. It is also called Theophany (“manifestation of God”), especially by Eastern Christians. Epiphany also refers to the church season that follows the day.

It commemorates the first two occasions on which Jesus’ divinity, according to Christian belief, was manifested: when the three kings visited infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and when John the Baptist baptized him in the River Jordan. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasize the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.

Symbols

Various paintings, artworks and sketches show the three wise men and Jesus. Some paintings artworks show the three wise men on the way to Bethlehem or adoring baby Jesus. The kings are important because their visit illustrates that Jesus was the king of all kings who came for the Jews and the Gentiles.

The star that guides the wise men to Christ also symbolizes Epiphany, as well as the three gifts they gave to Jesus: gold (fit for a king); frankincense (used to worship at a temple); and myrrh (used for embalming, as well as a salve for irritations such as diaper rash). Other paintings depict the story of Jesus’ baptism. Many Orthodox churches consider Jesus’ baptism to be the first step towards the crucifixion. The liturgical color for the Epiphany season is white.

About Epiphany in other countries

Read more about Epiphany.

Epiphany Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2010WedJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2011ThuJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2012FriJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2013SunJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2014MonJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2015TueJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2016WedJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2017FriJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2018SatJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2019SunJan 6EpiphanyChristian 
2020MonJan 6EpiphanyChristian 

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