Epiphany (Bogojavljenje, Sveta tri kralja)

Three Kings - Epiphany holiday

Bogojavljenje or Sveta tri kralja (Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day) is one of the oldest Catholic holidays and a national holiday in Croatia. Epiphany is celebrated every year on January 6. On this day, Christians celebrate the revelation of God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ. Epiphany comes from the Greek word “επιφάνεια”, which means appearance or announcement.

Who were the three kings?

According to the Evanđelje po Mateju (Gospel of Matthew), three kings are biblical Magi who came to Jerusalem to worship the newborn Jesus. It isn’t known where exactly they came from except that they came from the east. Some historians guess that they were from Arabia, Mesopotamia, and India.

They followed the zvijezda repatica (star of Bethlehem) which led them to little Jesus who was with his mother Marija (St. Mary) and father Josip (St. Joseph).

The three kings were:

  • Gašpar or Sveti Gašpar (Caspar or Saint Caspar) – “Kaspar” meaning “treasurer” in Persian
  • Melkior or Sveti Melkior (Melchior or Saint Melchior) – “Melchior” meaning “the king of the light” in Hebrew – He is the patron saint of travelers and World Youth Day.
  • Baltazar or Sveti Baltazar (Balthazar or Saint Balthazar) – “Bel-tus-assar” meaning “God protects his life” in Assyrian – He is the patron saint of patients with epilepsy.

The three kings are the representatives of the pagan nations. God invited them to his kingdom to announce the birth of Jesus Christ. The three kings are shown as men of different ages (young man, mature man, and old man) and races. Melchior represents Europe, Balthazar Africa, and Caspar Asia. These were the only continents known at the time.

Kings’ gifts to little Jesus

Each of the three kings brought a present for Jesus. Every gift was symbolic and their visit was a sign that the Savior of all the people was born.

The gifts included:

  • Mirta (myrtle), which represents Jesus as a man
  • Aromatični tamjan (aromatic frankincense), which represents Jesus as a God
  • Zlato (gold), which represents Jesus as a king

How Croatians celebrate Epiphany

One of the Croatian customs on the Epiphany is the blessing of water and salt. According to the old custom, women come to the church for water blessed by the priest. Then, men would spray the house, farm, fields, vineyards, orchards, and cattle with this blessed water. There is a belief that this practice protects from evil forces, bad weather, disease, and misfortunes. The blessed water must not be spilled, so they would throw the extra water into the fire. If the cattle got sick, they would give them a small amount of blessed salt.

Nowadays, Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas holidays and celebrations. On this day, everyone removes their Christmas decorations and lights and takes down their tree. Usually, you’ll see a big pile of Christmas trees accumulate next to the dumpsters on this day. Everyone rests and does the bare minimum. This is also the day when Advent celebrations end.

Chalking the door for house blessing
Image by Montreal Cathedral

Family Blessing

Blagoslov obitelji (family blessing) is a tradition when a priest visits families and blesses the house and the family. Family blessings starts on St. Stephens Day (December 26) and usually last until Epiphany. The priest comes accompanied by the bell-ringer and another assistant.

The whole family should be together when the priest comes to visit them. It is necessary to clean the house before the visit. When the priest comes, first he blesses the house and the family. After the prayer, someone gives him a money donation for the church in the name of the family. Sometimes people offer him food or a drink. The old custom was to give him food, cakes or fruits, but now everyone just gives money.

The priest may also write the three kings’ initials (“G”, “M” and “B”) and the current year on the house doors. They put cross signs between these three letters as a sign of blessing. Nowadays, a priest usually puts a sticker with a holy icon with these letters on the doors. It a modern version used instead of writing with chalk.

Check out the other Croatian national holidays here.

Do you celebrate Epiphany? What are your family traditions?

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