What is Epiphany? Why do Christians mark this feast day

Pope Francis leads Epiphany celebrationsGETTY

Pope Francis leads the Holy Mass for the Epiphany in 2014

The celebration falls on the 12th day of Christmas and marks the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist.

Pope Francis will today hold the annual Holy Mass for the Epiphany in St Peter's Basilica in Rome marking a celebration that was first observed by western Christians in the 4th century.

The Epiphany also marks the visit of the three Wise Men to baby Jesus.

Statue of baptism of JesusGETTY

Statue by Antonio Raggi in Rome depicting the baptism of Jesus

According to the New Testament the men followed a star to Bethlehem bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the newborn.

While the Catholic church observes the celebration as just one day, many Protestants devote six weeks to the season of Epiphany.

The three Kings bestow gifts on baby JesusGETTY

The three Wise men bestowed gifts on the baby Jesus

And Orthodox Christians do not celebrate the holiday until January 19th each year.

Up until the 19th Century, as the final day of the festive period, January 6th was as big a celebration as Christmas Day.

Swimmers in Prague during the Three Kings swimGETTY

Swimmers in Prague during the annual Three Kings swim

Today the day's festivities vary across the world.

In Prague, Czech Republic, there is a traditional Three Kings swim in the Vltava River to commemorate the day while in Mexico crowds gather to eat the Rosca de Reyes – Kings' bread.

In some countries, a small baby Jesus figurine is hidden in the bread and whoever finds it throws a party on Candlemas in February.

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