Michelle Mann

That moment when you suddenly understand something of importance.

That’s an epiphany.

The word comes from a Greek word meaning “to show, make known, or reveal.” An epiphany is essentially that “a-ha” moment when you suddenly understand or become conscious of a truth.

The start of the new year Tuesday at midnight marked not only a new calendar year, it’s a time of new beginnings with a clean slate.

But Sunday, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, is also a day of new beginnings. Tucked in between the celebrations of Christmas and Mardi Gras is the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the day that three regal kings bearing gifts for a king—being guided by a star—arrived at a manger in Bethlehem providing shelter for a newborn baby boy and his parents.

It’s significant that the arrival of the trio at the manger in Bethlehem is called an epiphany. It was, indeed, their “A-Ha” moment when they realized that the king they were seeking was in fact a baby born to a poor carpenter and his teenaged bride.

Their epiphany moment marked a new beginning. The Wise Men were the first Gentiles to publicly recognize the divinity of Jesus, presenting gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Though traditionally Jan. 6, the feast day is commemorated on the first Sunday of January each year.

I cannot remember a time when I did not know that the day the three wise men arrived at the manger where Jesus Christ was born was a day to celebrate. In many countries, the holiday season doesn’t officially end until the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day.

We lived in France during my elementary school years and celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany was as part of the Christmas season as Midnight Mass.

Being warned by God in a dream not to return to King Herod to let him know the location of the Christ child as the ruler had ordered, the three kings returned home by another route. Because of that, the Epiphany Feast, associated with an unexpected change in direction, is celebrated with the King Cake, made circular in shape to portray the circular route used by the kings to get to the manger.

The King Cake originated in France around the 12th century. Since the 14th century, the French traditionally eat the puff pastry cake with almond flavored filling and a bean, pea, coin or small plastic baby representing the Christ child baked inside, once a year.

According to the tradition, the cake is divided so that each guest gets a slice, with one left over for any unexpected guests.

The person who finds the hidden piece in their slice is declared King for the Day and is believed to have good luck in the coming year.

The main part of the epiphany celebration for those of us attending Fontainebleau American Elementary School in Fontainebleau, France, was watching our teacher slice into the King Cake and distribute pieces to each class member. We hoped against hope that we would be the lucky one to find the hidden “baby” inside our slice. Because whoever found the small plastic baby representing the Christ child would be crowned King for a Day and get to keep the golden paper crown we would have been honored to wear all day long.

Epiphany is a time of beginning again. Epiphany is acknowledging encounters that change our perceptions and allows us to see the world—or ourselves—in a new way.

Epiphanies bring with them expanded perceptions, new beginnings. Here’s wishing you and yours a year of epiphanies.

Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at mmann@southeastsun.com.

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