Epiphany is one of many already existing holidays celebrated since antiquity, before the advent of the Christian religion, that assimilated it into the new cult following the widespread phenomenon of syncretism. It is part of the celebrations related to the winter solstice that has then to do with the passage of time and the changing seasons and must be accompanied by rites of fertility for the new year.
Originally, the Epiphany was part of the cycle of winter solstice and derives its substance and meaning of the pagan celebrations of Light. This solstice night, the longest of the year announces the extension of the days and by extension the rebirth of the Light supposed to be at the origin of all things. Then the celebration continues for a highly symbolic number of days 12 days and 12 nights.
That's when the days begin to lengthen significantly. Epiphany is then celebrated, the manifestation of the Light. By its round shape and its golden color, the galette symbolizes the sun. It should also be noted that this is a day at least equivalent, for the then current calendar the Julian calendar differs from the present.
The long period of celebrations, dedicated to the ancient winter solstice, is closed at the Epiphany. In the twelve nights the peasant people believed to see flying over the fields, the goddess of fertility, with a fairly large group of women, to make precisely the countryside fertile. These women, with the advent of Christianity, took magical connotation and therefore was considered demonic and becoming witches. Hence come the stories of real witches, their flights and horseback conferences between the old and the new year.
The festivities began with the Saturnalia, which was then replaced by Christmas. This festival was celebrated in honor of the god Saturn and often took orgiastic character. During these festivities there was a reversal of the social order when slaves were considered as free men, who was elected by a draw of lots, and made a prince who was assigned all powers, dressed in a funny mask and gaudy color among which prevailed the red.
It was the personification of a deity, who was identified from time to time with Saturn or Pluto, and was in charge of the custody of the souls of the dead, and also the protector of the countryside and crops. These deities, wandered the land during the winter months, made them uncultivated, but if properly worshiped, they also had the power to restore fertility, leaving the field free to the bestower of fruits, the Mother Goddess, Mother Nature in all its personifications.
On the occasion survives the lunar character of the ancient celebrations of the solstice. As they were the rites of Befana. One of them was to burn a piece of wood, representative of the old (symbol of Mother Nature), which reached the end of the year was a dry timber. That burning, was nothing but an exorcism against past deprivations. Another Befanata lay in begging food made from house to house by the young men of the community, singing and reciting the terrible events of nature.
It was instead taken up by the Latin Saturnalia of the evening party, a rite where pets were brought to the table of men, and served by their owners. Probably of pagan origins, the character of the Epiphany was a benevolent witch who lived in the mountains in the woods. Also called the ogre's wife La Befana was a benevolent witch who brought gifts and treats to good children, but who also had the task of punishing the bad with charcoal. The night of the Epiphany is everywhere considered a magical night, propitious to apparitions of all the fantastic creatures and when nature comes to life and animals acquire the word.
The ancient ritual of the celebration of Epiphany, with food and gastronomic delights comes from the agrarian cults, with dishes based on vegetables and pork. It's still followed in many European countries, the tradition of the cake, containing coins, dried beans, or other small tokens. The diners who find the mark in their share, became the king of the feast.
On January 6, the Orthodox Greece celebrates the festival of lights and set up by feasting on fried sweet, sprayed honey. In ancient Greece, was with the words theopháneia and Epiphaneia the appearance of a deity called, with the former also the presentation of all the gods at a feast in Delphi. Golden fotopite literally light sweet and loukoumades made of sesame, flour and water are forged in the form of small suns, which are the hallmark of Foton, a festival that has its roots in Eastern spirituality.
It's a way to greet the dodekameròn, the twelfth day of the birth of the sun, for that mythical Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, relying once again, the food a message of rebirth, the victory of light over darkness, of life over death. The myriad of lights on around the tables of January 6, such a magical effect empathic, are aimed at attracting the earth solar light energy contained in the star.
The tradition of the Festival of Lights, an ancient solar festival dedicated to Mithras and Zoroaster, arrived in Greece through the Basilian monks, who linked it to the water festival which is celebrated today in Greece on the same day of January 6. Festival of Lights and water festival, both pagan celebrations of Mother Nature, are the proscenium to the baptism of Christ in the Jordan that the Orthodox Church celebrates on January 6.
La Befana is strongly linked to mythology Germanic Holda and Berhta, who are the personification of winter nature. In ancient Rome took place at the beginning of the year a big party in honor of Janus, which was repeatedly condemned by the Church. The festivities then took the name of New Year's Eve, not unlike today, when continued the celebration in honor of Strenia and during the period were exchanged gifts.
Again, the Church finds a way to convert a pagan festival that existed from the dawn of time, about seven hundred years before the arrival in the world of the supposed Messiah, but the witch saves itself all the paganism that has generated bringing the folklore of small rural and agricultural villages, in saying farewell to the old year and through him, he wished a richer and prosperous new year waiting for the resumption life in camps finished the 'winter, and deserving students could waiting to eat the fruit left a gift from the old year thanks to the hard work of the fields; while for others it remains only coal, useful to warm up from the winter cold.
Its origin is lost in the mists of time, it is descended from pre-Christian magical traditions and, in popular culture, merges with folk and Christian elements. We need to return to the time when it was believed that in the twelve nights fantastic female figures were flying just over fields sown to propitiate future harvests.
The Church condemned with extreme rigor such beliefs, calling the result of satanic influences, but the people did not cease to be convinced that these nocturnal wanderings came to pass, only it did not consider more benefits, but hell. These overlays gave rise to many different personifications that flared in the Middle Ages in Befana.
Some claim that it is old and ugly now because it represents the bare nature which then reborn and who is the image of the year now threadbare wearing new and then vanishes. Its looks ugly, representation of all past punishments, so assumes a apotropaic function and she becomes sacrificial figure. And this can reconnect the custom of burning it.
In popular tradition, however, the Epiphany term, crippled in the Epiphany, has taken on a different meaning, going to designate the shape of a particular old lady. As we have seen for the other traditions that take place throughout the year, many of our holidays have rural origins, their roots lie in our agricultural past. So it is also for the Epiphany.
In ancient times, in fact, the twelfth night after Christmas, that is, after the winter solstice, celebrated the death and rebirth of nature, through the pagan figure of Mother Nature. On the night of 6 January, in fact, Mother Nature, tired for having given all his energies during the year, appeared in the form of an old and benevolent witch, flying around the skies with a broom. dry now, Mother Nature was ready to be burned as a branch, so that he could rise from the ashes as a young girl Nature, a new moon.
Before perishing, however, the old woman went to distribute gifts and sweets to all, so planting the seeds that would be born during the next year. In many regions in fact, at this time, running multiple purifiers rites similar to those of the Carnival, which drives away the evil from the fields through pots that make big noise or light up massive fires, or even in some regions are constructed of straw dolls to old form, that are burned during the nights.
Epiphany coincides, in some traditions, with female representation of the old year, ready to sacrifice themselves for the rebirth of a new period of prosperity.
As we all know, the feast of the Epiphany is a Christian festival celebrated on January 6 for Western churches and even the oriental following the Gregorian calendar, while it is celebrated on January 15 for those who follow the Julian calendar. In Spain and Portugal (Bolo Rei) and the countries of Latin America : the Día de los Reyes Magos is often a holiday and the children receive their gifts rather than on Christmas.
In Belgium and the Netherlands people eat a cake with almond paste. During the day the children walk the streets singing songs and go door to door to receive mandarins and sweets. This custom tends to disappear in Belgium. In the Flemish countryside this is still done. Let us note in passing that in Wallonia, it is at this moment that the preparation of the Carnival begins. In Iceland, it starts with a torchlight procession which also involves the king and queen of the elves, which ends with a bonfire and fireworks.
In the southern United States the tradition is under the name of king cake. These are eaten during the entire period from Epiphany until the carnival of Mardi Gras. Depending on the country, special festivities from local traditions are organized. Thus, in Bulgaria, the men perform a traditional dance, the horo in ice water. In Hellenistic Egypt, the birth of the sun god was celebrated. On the day, people believed there were healing properties in the waters of Nile. In India the Makar Sankranti is celebrated with flying of kites and ritual dip in the Ganges.