January 6 is known by different names. In France, it is called Three Kings Day. In England, it is called Twelfth Night, for the twelfth night after Christmas. It is also known as Epiphany. The day commemorates the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem, when they delivered gifts to the Christ Child. Epiphany is a Greek word meaning revelation. It refers to the revelation of the wise men when they saw the star and followed it.
Germans from Russia brought their traditions and customs, including Epihany, when they settled on the Great Plains. Sister Katherine Kraft wrote of celebrating Epiphany in 1948 in Strasbourg, North Dakota. She expressed her appreciation that Christmas didn’t end on the 25th, being followed by a string of festive days, including a special celebration for St. John’s Day on December 27. This feast honored the Apostle who sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Then on New Year’s Eve, men went from house to house. They fired a rifle to announce the New Year and were rewarded with a glass of schnapps. Sister Katherine reported that the men grew merrier as they traveled. On Epiphany Eve, people gathered to drink the health of family and friends for the coming year. Bockbier was brewed especially for this time of year. It has a stronger taste and a higher alcohol content than other beers.
Epiphany marked the end of the Christmas season. Children dressed as the kings went from door to door singing songs, much like carolers in England. The children asked for donations for charity. They used chalk to mark the doors of the homes, writing the initials K, B, and M for the names of the three kings. In churches and homes, people did not place the figures of the wise men in their nativity scenes until Epiphany. According to tradition, the wise men brought frankincense as one of their gifts, so people burned frankincense in their homes and barns for luck.
When Epiphany was over, it was the end of Christmas. Decorations were taken down and Christmas trees removed. School resumed, and people settled in for the winter, warmed by the memories of Christmas.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection. "http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/history_culture/custom_traditions/strasburgchristmas.html" http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/history_culture/custom_traditions/strasburgchristmas.html Accessed 10 December, 2014.