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Tomorrow is Epiphany. Epiphany, meaning “vision of God”, which falls on January 6, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ.
Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.
Eastern Churches following the Julian Calendar observe the Theophany feast on January 19 because of the 13-day difference today between that calendar and the generally used Gregorian calendar. For Roman Catholics in many countries, the feast is celebrated on the Sunday that falls between January 2 and January 8. In Poland it is celebrated on January 6.
In Poland, Epiphany, or Trzech Króli (Three Kings) is celebrated in grand fashion, with huge parades held welcoming the Wise Men, often riding on camels or other animals from the zoo, in Warsaw and other cities. The Wise Men pass out sweets, children process in Renaissance wear, carols are sung, and living nativity scenes are enacted, all similar to celebrations in Italy or Spain, pointing to the country’s Catholic heritage. Children may also dress in colors signifying Europe, Asia, and Africa (the supposed homes of the Wise Men) and at the end of the parade route, church leaders often preach on the spiritual significance of the Epiphany.
In 2011, by an act of Parliament, Epiphany was restored as an official non-working national public holiday in Poland for the first time since it was cancelled under communism fifty years before.
Star singing and house blessing are popular in Poland, as in the rest of Central Europe.
Poles though take small boxes containing chalk, a gold ring, incense and a piece of amber, in memory of the gifts of the Magi, to church to be blessed. Once at home, they inscribe “K+M+B+” and the year with the blessed chalk above every door in the house, according to tradition, to provide protection against illness and misfortune for those within. The letters, with a cross after each one, are said to stand either for the traditionally applied names of the Three Kings in Polish – Kacper, Melchior and Baltazar – or for a Latin inscription meaning “Christ bless this house.” They remain above the doors all year until they are inadvertently dusted off or replaced by new markings the next year.
On January 6, as in much of Europe, a Polish style Three Kings cake is served with a coin or almond baked inside. The one who gets it is king or queen for the day, signified by wearing the paper crown that decorates the cake. According to Polish tradition this person will be lucky in the coming year. Recipes vary by region. Some serve a French-type puff pastry cake with almond paste filling, others favor a sponge cake with almond cream filling, and yet others enjoy a light fruitcake.
Epiphany in Poland also signals the beginning of “zapusty” or carnival time, when “Pączki” (doughnuts) are served.
Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)