The word "epiphany" derives from the Greek "epipháneia"—a manifestation or an appearance. Today, common contemporary usage tends to think of an epiphany as "a realization; a sudden clarity of thought," and this is not incorrect. But the original meaning includes a physical, visual connotation which is an important element to not forget. An epiphany, in the original sense, is seeing something which leads one to believe something.
The Christian holy day of Epiphany is celebrated today, 6 January. In the Western Church, the Epiphany is associated with the story of the Magi who visit the newborn Jesus. The "Wise Men,"—all Gentiles—see the baby and they experience an epiphany: God is now present on Earth, here in the form of the human child, Jesus. Interpreted broadly, their epiphany represents the physical manifestation of God-on-Earth to the Gentiles. In some cultures, the day is called "Three Kings Day" or "Little Christmas"—complete with different regional and cultural practices: foods, music and other activities.
In the Eastern Church, Epiphany is linked to the story of Jesus's baptism in the Jordan by his (slightly) older cousin, Saint John the Baptist. The Gospel of Matthew relates the events of this immersion, after which the Holy Spirit (that is, God) appears overhead as a dove and God's voice is heard, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Certainly, this scene, and this declaration, can be viewed as a moment of epiphany.
Technically, theologically, Christmas is not just a single day (25 December), but, rather, a twelve day season called "Christmastide." The eve before Epiphany (5 January) is called "Twelfth Night"—the final night of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Although Twelfth Night is celebrated outside of the United Kingdom, it is often associated closely with the British and within the Commonwealth countries.
Epiphany, for many, marks the end of the Christmas Season, and time to take down the Holiday decorations. Some cultures have deigned it unlucky to display Christmas decorations after Epiphany. The Monday after Epiphany (this year on 9 January) marks the beginning of the agricultural season in Britain, called "Plough Day."
The bookends above, made by Bradley & Hubbard in the 1920's or 1930's, bear quotes from two saints: Saint John the Evangelist (Jesus's beloved disciple) and Saint John Cardinal Newman, the British theologian and convert to Catholicism who was a key figure in the Oxford Movement of the 19th Century. They might bring a measure of "Rectory Chic" to your desk, credenza or bookshelf. Click on the photo above to learn more about them.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248