Epiphany Christmas Eve: traditions and rituals
On the eve of the church feast of the Epiphany, the Eve of Epiphany is celebrated, which also has a second, folk, name – Epiphany Christmas Eve. Today, its celebration is becoming more and more popular. What does this holiday mean? And how is it right, in accordance with the traditions of Christianity and the customs of the ancestors, and, together, with enthusiasm and benefit, to celebrate Epiphany Eve?
From the history of the holiday
In ancient times, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ was connected with the feast of the Nativity of Christ. For this reason, many similarities have been preserved in the rites and content of these two holidays. In particular, the same Epiphany Christmas Eve, Epiphany Eve (or evening) "doubles" Christmas Eve or Christmas Eve. Epiphany Christmas Eve should be perceived as the eve of the actual feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
The spiritual meaning of the holiday and rituals.
The main content of the Eve of Baptism consists, of course, in the fast established on this day. According to the pious tradition, nothing is eaten on this day until the end of the evening service in the temples and until the first star appears. Here again there is a parallel with Christmas, where such a custom is observed in memory of the Star of Bethlehem, which led the wise men to the baby Jesus.
Moreover, one should not see in this some kind of mechanical transfer of customs from one celebration to another. The fact is that the very unity of Baptism and Christmas initially, in ancient Christianity, took place due to the fact that both of these events were understood as Theophany (it is well known that this word serves as the second name for the feast of Epiphany).
Indeed, the Christian tradition comprehends these two events – Christmas and Baptism – as the discovery of the divine, mystical, transcendent both in the life of Christ and in the life of every Christian who is born into the world and receives the Sacrament of Baptism, and moreover – in the life of every person in general. After all, the appearance of any human being, from the point of view of Christianity, is a miracle inexplicable in its depth and a great triumph. The same miracle is the whole life of a person, especially in its turning points. According to many Christian sages and mentors, such moments include the Baptism of Jesus, who, through the ritual of immersion in the waters of the Jordan, was able to gain a revelation from above about his destiny, about his life calling.
The meaning of Epiphany Christmas Eve should be seen in the fact that an Orthodox believer can prepare for the holiday dedicated to the Baptism of Jesus Christ by fasting, special personal and temple prayer, and reflections on biblical narratives. In addition, the fast of this day also has a functional purpose – to separate the Christmas festivities (they last from January 7 to 17) from the next independent church holiday, to open a new cycle of church rituals and spiritual experiences.
Customs and traditions of the holiday
As for the name "Christmas Eve", it comes from the word "sochivo". This is the name of a ritual dish (another name is “kutia"), which is the only one consumed on this day. Sochivo is prepared from boiled cereals (usually rice or sprouted wheat is taken), mixed with honey, poppy seeds, nuts, and various dried fruits. This dish is a symbol of spiritual sweetness and pleasure.
According to a tradition that has been observed from antiquity to the present, believers on Epiphany Christmas Eve go to the evening service without eating anything before that. This is done with the aim of communing after the service of holy water (in church language it is also called the Great Agiasma, i.e. the great shrine), which is just consecrated for the first time in the new year at the end of the Christmas Eve church service. Many believers collect this water for everyday consumption in bottles and jars at home.
Actually, the ritual of Epiphany bathing in the hole also belongs to Epiphany Christmas Eve. On the night of Epiphany, i.e. on Epiphany Eve, those who are especially jealous of the customs of deep native antiquity bathe in consecrated reservoirs and baths. There is a long-standing popular belief that bathing on this night renews the soul and gives it strength to make a further life journey.