Epiphany is observed every 6 January, 12 days after Christmas Day. This holiday is when Christians take the time to remember the Wise Men, who are also referred to as the Three Kings. These are the individuals in the story of Jesus’s birth who visited him on the night he was born.
Epiphany is also the time when many commemorate the baptism of Jesus. This baptism occurred when Jesus was approximately 30 years old, and this is also the time when he began to teach others about God. The term “Epiphany” actually translates to “revelation,” and a word that is used for both the visit from the Three Kings and Jesus’s Baptism. These are considered critical times when Jesus was revealed as an important person.
A common tradition for those in Austria who celebrate Epiphany is to create a special sign to place on their front door. The sign is written in chalk, and the message is a reminder of when the Wise Men visited baby Jesus. The sign typically includes the initials of the names given to the Wise Men – Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar. These initials are placed between the current year (for example, 20 C M B 20).
In Austria, the Sternsinger, or star singers, walk from one door to another in all the towns and villages in the country. This group typically consists of four children (three kings and the star person), as well as an adult who accompanies them on their journey. At each house, they sing a little song that shows their excitement for Jesus’s birth, bless the inhabitants of the house for the New Year, and often collect a small amount of money to give to charity.
During this day, which is also considered the last day of the Christmas celebration, there are several other traditions in Austria that involve certain symbols and rituals. Many families take down their Christmas tree on this day and burn it in a bonfire.
This is an especially joyous occasion for children, because, in addition to the tree being taken down, the children also get to “plundern” which means the raiding of the tree. This allows the children to gather all the ornaments wrapped in foil such as cookies and sweets, that were used as decoration.