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Theophany: Celebrating Epiphany Day in Greece

On Epiphany Day, Greece celebrates the baptism of Jesus, which manifested the Holy Trinity on Earth. This is one of the most significant Christian holidays in the country and is observed with a variety of traditions.

In this article, you’ll learn about the Epiphany holiday in Greece, from its origin to current Epiphany traditions in Greece.

At GreekPod101.com, it’s our goal to ensure that every aspect of your language-learning journey both fun and informative—starting with this article!

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1. What is Epiphany in Greece?

Theophany, or Epiphany, is a Christian holiday that’s celebrated every year to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. It’s the third and last holiday of Christmastide, that is to say, the period from Christmas until Epiphany. This period of time is called the Twelve Days because it lasts for twelve days.

According to the Scriptures, one day Jesus appeared before John the Baptist, who was preaching and baptizing in the Jordan River, asking to be baptized. During the baptism, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended from heaven and hovered over Jesus while the voice of God was heard from heaven at the same time.

This is how the Holy Trinity was manifested on Earth. Because of this occurrence, the Εκκλησία (eklisía), or “Church,” established the sacrament of baptism with the use of water. This is also why many celebrations of Epiphany in Greece have to do with water.

In some countries, the celebration of the Epiphany also has to do with the visitation of the Magi to Baby Jesus. But Epiphany Day in Greece focuses more on Jesus’ baptism.

2. Date of Epiphany

Christian Man with Bible

Each year, Greeks celebrate Epiphany on January 6. The night before is called Epiphany Eve.

3. How is Epiphany Celebrated in Greece?

Man Swimming

On Epiphany Day, in the coastal regions of Greece, the custom of the blessing of the waters takes place, something that is reminiscent of the baptism of Jesus. During the ceremony, which is also simply called “sanctification,” the waters are blessed by the wishes and invocations of the Ιερέας (ieréas), or “priest.” The immersion of the Holy Cross in the waters further purifies it.

In non-coastal regions, the ceremony can take place in a river, a lake, or even in a water reservoir. Sanctifications are also carried out in homes, where a priest with a sprig of basil sprinkles the house with Αγιασμός (ayiasmós), or “holy water.”

When the Holy Cross gets immersed into the body of water, many a daring Κολυμβητής (kolimvitís), meaning “swimmer,” or Βουτηχτής (vutihtís), meaning “diver,” dive into the icy-cold waters to retrieve it. Whoever retrieves the Cross kisses it and then shows it around the houses and receives generous gifts. In the Greek movie Madalena, which was filmed in Antiparos in 1960, there’s a typical reproduction of this custom, although somewhat tragicomic!

Another Epiphany celebration in Greece is that of the Κάλαντα των Φώτων (kálanda ton Fóton), or “Epiphany carol,” that children sing the day before the holiday. There’s also the washing of icons.

Do you remember the goblins, the demons that rise to the Earth’s surface on Christmas Eve? With the Epiphany sanctifications, they become frightened, flee, and return again to their subterranean hideout where they remain until the next Christmas Eve!

4. Theophany

The Greek word for Theophany is a compound word. Do you know which words it consists of and why?

The Greek word for Theophany consists of the word Theos (God) and from the ancient verb phaino, which means “to reveal.” The holiday is called this because, as we saw, God revealed Himself on Earth.

Words like phainomai (to seem; to appear), phenomenon, fantasy, phantom, and fanari (lantern; traffic light) derive from the verb phaino.

5. Essential Vocabulary for the Epiphany in Greece

Holy Water

Ready to review some of the vocabulary words we saw in this article? Here’s the essential Greek vocabulary for Epiphany!

  • Εκκλησία (eklisía) — “Church”
  • Ιερέας (ieréas) — “Priest”
  • Τα Φώτα (Ta Fóta) — “Epiphany”
  • Αγία Τριάδα (Ayía Triáda) — “Trinity”
  • Η ρίψη του Σταυρού (i rípsi tu Stavrú) — “The throwing of the Holy Cross”
  • Η ανέλκυση του Σταυρού (i anélkisi tu Stavrú) — “The recovery of the Holy Cross”
  • Κολυμβητής (kolimvitís) — “Swimmer”
  • Ραντίζω (radízo) — “Plash”
  • Ουρανία (Uranía) — “Ourania”
  • Αγιασμός (ayiasmós) — “Holy water”
  • Αντίδωρο (andídoro) — “Holy bread
  • Φωτεινή (Fotiní) — “Fotini”
  • Κάλαντα των Φώτων (kálanda ton Fóton) — “Epiphany carol”
  • Βουτηχτής (vutihtís) — “Diver”
  • Δαιμόνιο (demónio) — “Demon”
  • Χορός των καλικάντζαρων (horós ton kalikádjaron) — “Dance of the elves”
  • Χριστιανός (hristianós) — “Christian”
  • Βάπτιση του Ιησού Χριστού (Váptisi tu Iisú Hristú) — “Baptism of Jesus Christ”
  • Καλικάντζαρος (kalikánjaros) — “Goblin”
  • Θεοφάνια (Theofánia) — “Epiphany”
  • Ψαλμός (psalmós) — “Psalm”

To hear each of these vocabulary words pronounced, and to read them alongside relevant images, be sure to check out our Greek Epiphany vocabulary list!

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning about Epiphany in Greece with us!

Do you celebrate Epiphany in your country? If so, are traditions different or similar to those in Greece? Let us know in the comments; we look forward to hearing from you!

If you’re interested in learning more about Greek culture, or if you want a few more wintery words up your sleeve, you may find the following pages useful:

  • Greek Culture
  • Top 5 Pop Culture Things/Icons You Need to Know About Greece
  • Greek Slang: Popular Greek Slang Words & Phrases
  • Words for Winter Snow Days
  • How Will You Spend Your Winter Holiday?
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