For Christians, this coming weekend marks an important celebration in the life of Jesus Christ: the Feast of the Epiphany.
How and why you observe Epiphany depends largely on where you're from. But in Tarpon Springs, the celebration is a century-old tradition for thousands of people.
Here are some things you should know about Epiphany in Tarpon Springs.
- In the western churches, Epiphany observes the visit of the Three Wise Men to the infant Jesus (a.k.a. Three Kings Day). But in the Orthodox churches, Epiphany observes Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.
- Epiphany is usually celebrated on Jan. 6, though some celebrate it on New Year’s Day.
- Tarpon Springs, in the Tampa Bay area, is home to the largest Epiphany festival in the country. Up to 20,000 people normally attend the event.
- Tarpon Springs’ first Epiphany event took place in 1906 with just a few people.
- Tarpon Springs’ Epiphany is very similar to how Epiphany is celebrated in Greece and one of the few in the U.S. to follow this tradition.
- Epiphany in Tarpon Springs is such a major event that the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in America often attends the festivities.
- Epiphany is celebrated over two days, beginning with the Blessing of the Fleet on Friday and culminating in the blessing of the waters on Saturday, including the diving for the cross.
- During this ritual, a high-ranking member of the Greek Orthodox Church throws a wooden (or gold) cross into Spring Bayou, and dozens of teenage boys will dive for it.
- Fifty-seven boys from nine Tampa Bay-area churches will take part in the diving for the cross this year. The dive signifies Christ’s immersion into the River Jordan. The diver who retrieves the cross receives the blessing of the church, and it’s said he will have good fortune and “divine beneficence” in the new year.
- After the dive, there’s a festival called Glendi that features Greek food and traditional music and dancing. This year, the festival will be outside.
- Tarpon Springs residents believe St. Nicholas, the city’s patron saint and the namesake of the Greek Orthodox Church in the city, protects them from hurricanes. Before Hurricane Irma last year, the last hurricane to pass through Tarpon Springs was in 1920.
And even though the city was impacted by Irma, Epiphany organizers say they didn’t get the stronger major hurricane that was at one point predicted to hit the area. So St. Nicholas is still protecting Tarpon Springs.
Also, a spokesperson for the event says parking will be a challenge because the public parking lot at Pinellas Avenue and Tarpon Avenue will be closed.