"Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. The word "epiphany" comes from an ancient Greek word meaning "manifestation" or "striking appearance." Before Christianity, the word was used to record occasions when Greek gods and goddesses made appearances on earth."
I know that for many who follow an Italian path Befana's day is a big deal. But, gasp, it really isn't a big deal in my practice. Perhaps this is because I was not raised in an Italian family. It's not that this day hasn't always been important culturally for me. In New Orleanians we have our Epiphany celebrations. Today is the day we take our Christmas trees down and recycle them to help rebuild our wetlands. Today is the official start of our carnival season. Let the King Cakes begin! We'll end the carnival season with Mardi Gras. The carnival season is a pagan celebration bookended by 2 Christian Holidays Epiphany & Ash Wednesday. Perhaps it is this subliminal cultural awareness of how the pagan and Christian intermingle that has always made me thing of Befana's Day as culturally Italian and not necessarily part of my pagan practice.
But that is not to say that I do not think that this day has significance to those of us who follow the wheel of the year. We celebrate the Winter Solstice. This is when the day is shortest and the night longest. On Solstice we celebrate the fact that the sun will return even as it "stands still". The sun stands still until Epiphany when it again "makes its appearance here on earth" manifest.
Here is some science from USNO and the Royal Observatory science to help explain why it is logical that, even with out the Christian Epiphany, January 6th is an important day of mainfestation:
US Naval Observatory:
The 8 December crossover day is the date of earliest sunset. Why? In the weeks before solstice, the two effects act in opposite directions on the time of sunset: the declination effect pulling it earlier and the Equation of Time pushing it later. On 8 December the Equation of Time begins to dominate and sunset begins to move later. Meanwhile both effects are pushing sunrise later and later. After solstice, the situation reverses. Both effects push sunset later. But for sunrise, the declination effect now pulls it earlier while the Equation of Time effect continues to push it later. The Equation of Time prevails until 5 January, when the declination effect takes over and sunrises begin to move earlier. So 5 January is the date of latest sunrise.
The winter solstice is the time when the Sun reaches its southmost distance from the celestial equator and hence, in northern latitudes is the day when the Sun is lowest in the sky at noon. This is, naturally, the shortest day of the year in northern latitudes. To many people it seems odd, therefore, that the time of sunrise continues to get later in the day after the solstice.
The reason for this is that the Sun does not cross the meridian (when it is highest in the sky) at precisely noon each day. The difference between clock-defined noon and the time when the Sun is on the meridian is called the Equation of Time and represents the correction which must be applied to the time given by a sundial to make it agree with clock time.
There are two reasons why the Sun is not on the meridian at noon each day. The first is that the path of the Earth around the Sun is an ellipse, and not a circle. The second is that the Earth's equatorial plane and its orbital plane are inclined to one another. The two effects add together to yield the equation of time which can amount to some 16 minutes difference between solar and mean time.
The period when the equation of time is changing fastest in the whole year is very close to the winter solstice. It changes by 10 minutes from December 16 to January 5. This means that the time at which the Sun crosses the meridian changes by 10 minutes in this interval and also that the times of sunrise and sunset will change by the same amount.
Near the solstice the Sun's height in the sky changes very slowly and the length of the day also changes slowly. The rapid change due to the equation of time dominates the very slow change in day length and leads to the observed sunrise times.
It also leads to an Epiphany in the Greek sense of the word, Manifestation. The sun has truly returned and we can actually *see* the difference in the sunrise and sunset. The sun has stopped "standing still".
Aradia's Words on Worship indicate that we celebrate the Festival of Fana on December 19th. I have always wondered why have a festival at this time when the Winter Solstice celebration is so close. Perhaps it is to remind us to make this a season of change instead of single of a day of solar birth. Our Mythos indicate that Manea, the Crone, acts as midwife and assists with the birth of the Sun God at Solstice. Manea is said to rule this time of year. So it seems appropriate that a older lady bring gifts to the world. I have envisioned January 6th as the day that the Gods show the new Sun God to the people, with Manea, doing the work of bringing things to the physical world. I think that what we have Epiphany as hybridized cultural remnant of the recognition of the fact that this day is the day we can see the sun's return and Italy's unique capacity to retain aspects of feminine spirituality and the Christian Epiphany with its 3 kings bring gifts to the Christ child.
What is especially interesting to me is that on the Winter Solstice the belt of Orion (3 kings?) and Sirius point to where the sun will rise. These stars, like Befana and the 3 kings, help us mark and align with the Wheel of the Year.