Shrine of the Three Magi, Cologne Cathedral, Germany
The Feast of the Epiphany was 1st observed by the Eastern Churches. Well, Wisdom comes from the East (as is clear from the fact that 3 out of 4 ancient Scottish universities are on the East Coast!). It was originally a general celebration of the Incarnation of Christ. It included a commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Wise Men, all of Jesus' childhood events (none recorded in the Canonical Scriptures it has to be said - but hey, Tradition!), his Baptism and his 1st miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. The Baptism, it has to be said, was the main event commemoration wise.
The date of the feast was fixed very early on. The Biblical Wise Men, representing the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus, unlike Herod, who sought to kill him. Saint John Chrysostom said of the interaction between the Magi and Herod's courtiers: "The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way the birth of Jesus would be made known to all."
St. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote that the Epiphany is hemera genethlion toutestin epiphanion (Christ's "Birthday; that is, His Epiphany"). He also asserts that the Miracle at Cana occurred on the same calendar day. (Aye, right!)
In a sermon delivered on Christmas Day 380, St. Gregory of Nazianzus referred to today as ta theophania ("the Theophany", an alternative name for Epiphany), calling it a commemoration of he hagia tou Christou gennesis ("the holy nativity of Christ") and he told his listeners that they would soon be celebrating the baptism of Christ. Then, on 6/7 January, he preached, declaring that the celebration of the birth of Christ and the visitation of the Magi had already taken place, and that they would now commemorate his Baptism.(Confused? Well, we may be missing the odd sermon here and there I suppose)
Today in Eastern Orthodoxy, the emphasis is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked one of only two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptised in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration). Thus today is considered to be a feast of the Trinity.
I like that. It's not just about Jesus - it's about the relationship of God with God, with us and with the whole of Creation. and it's about listen to strange messengers and welcoming strangers who may teach us of the reality of God, even if they come from a different culture.