The second half of the Winter Pascha (the celebrations surrounding the Nativity and Theophany of Christ) begins on Christmas Day (25 December), and extends to the great feast of the Encounter of the Lord with Simeon and Anna in the Temple (2 February). During this time, as we begin to emerge from the darkness of winter, and move toward the Lenten spring, we celebrate the Lord’s coming among us, and his revelation of Himself as our savior, both human and divine!
In fact, one might characterize this entire season with the name of one of its feasts, the one we celebrate on January 6th — Theophany (the “appearance of God”) or Epiphany (“appearance” or “revelation”). The theme of the whole period revolves around the joyful proclamation we sing at Great Compline: God with us (Emmanuel)!
Among the earliest Christian communities, the first records we have of liturgical celebrations of these events come from Egypt, where the Coptic Christian church commemorated the Birth of Christ, the Visit of the Magi, his Baptism in the Jordan, (and perhaps also) his Entry into the Temple, all on the night of January 5th.
This practice soon spread to all the churches of the East and West. In the church of Rome, the commemoration of Christ’s Birth was moved to December 25 to Christianize the pagan Mithraic festival of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus). Most other Churches followed this example, but each separated the various commemorations differently. In the West, the magi are remembered on the first Sunday after the new civil year (formerly on January 6), and the Baptism on the second Sunday after the new year (formerly on January 13). On the Byzantine calendar, the magi are commemorated along with the Nativity on December 25, while January 6 recalls the Baptism.
January 1 is the commemoration of the revelation of Christ at his circumcision in the Byzantine churches, a feast no longer celebrated in the West. February 2nd commemorates the encounter of Christ with Simeon and Anna in the Temple in both the Byzantine East and Roman West. Armenian Christians celebrate all these “Epiphanies” on January 6th , including the Nativity of Christ.