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Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Kästle

Epiphany: How Europe celebrates

January 6, 2016

New Year’s doesn’t spell the end of the festive season in many parts of Europe. January 6 is also a cause for celebration - whether with religious ceremonies or sporting events.


In Germany, star singers go from door to door, singing carols and blessing people’s houses. This tradition reminds Christians about the story of Three Wise Men who came to visit the Baby Jesus bearing gifts. In the Bavarian city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen a sporting event is the center of attention on the sixth of January each year: the traditional “Hornschlitten” race. Once these sleds, whose runners are shaped like animal horns, were used for transporting hay from Alpine meadows to the valley below. But for close to half a century they’ve also been used for the annual race on Epiphany. This year, the race has been made possible by using artificial snow left over from the Great Olympic ski jumping hill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Organizers have carted in all the snow they could find to cover the 1.2 kilometer ski run. Four people occupy each sled. This year 72 teams registered for the race, including seven teams of women.

Hornschlittenrennen in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Racing into the New Year at speeds of up to 100 kilometers an hourImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Is the Weser frozen over? Let’s check it out!

The northern German city of Bremen has its own traditional spectacle: the ice test. For 190 years, a 99-pound tailor has been sent out with a hot iron to test whether the Weser River is frozen over or not. The test now is largely of symbolic value, as the river hasn’t frozen over since 1947. Still, thousands of local residents come out to watch the tailor each year.

Icy cold baptism in Greece

In Greece, water also plays on important role on the sixth of January. Then the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates "Ta Agia Theofania", the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River of Jordan. Everywhere priests bless bodies of water - mainly the sea, but rivers and lakes as well. People gather on the shore to take part in the ceremony. The priest consecrates a wooden cross and throws it into the freezing cold water. Then Greeks rush in after it, because whoever gets hold of the cross is said to have luck the whole year through.

Bildergalerie Wie die Welt Silvester feiert Griechenland Drei-König-Schwimmen
The cross as a talismanImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Mavrona

In Italy, everything centers around "Epiphanias", a celebration of the birth of Jesus. For Italians, it’s almost as important as Christmas. Children, in particular, can’t wait for Befana, the Christmas Witch, to fill their shoes or socks with candy and presents. Epiphany is cause for big celebrations across Italy. In cities like Florence there are parades which feature colorful costumes and singing. In Rome and Naples people spend the eve of Epiphany together on public squares, where toys and sweets are sold.

Ey/ks/pm (dpa, epd)