This Friday, January 6, is a holiday for us here in Germany. The Germans (well, Catholics anyway) are celebrating Dreikönigstag (Three Kings Day), also known as Epiphany in some parts of the world.
Though I know who the three kings are, I didn’t know they had a day or an epipany for that matter.
So, you’ve heard of the 12 Days of Christmas, right? Well, it seems that those twelve days start ON Christmas Day, not before. After the Twelfth Night (Shakespeare anyone?) comes Epiphany, the day that the baby Jesus was revealed to the Gentile world. This really must be a Catholic thing as I’ve never heard such traditions in Protestant churches.
Apparently, the names of the three kings are also known (though not mentioned in the Bible – in fact it doesn’t even say there were three): Caspar, Melichor, and Balthasar. On Three Kings Day, Germans write a “blessing” over their doors in chalk. This year it would be written
20 * C + M + B – 12
For a photo, head here or here. There are variations in the *, +, and – symbols, but the basic number and letter system is the same. The C, M, and B supposedly stand for our three kings (Caspar, Melichor, and Balthasar). However, it seems that the CMB actually represents the phrase Christus Mansionem Benedicat, or Christ bless this house.
I’ve seen these symbols all over my city and never knew what they meant. That just goes to show that research is never a waste of time, right? Learn something new every day.
But, before I wrap this up, it wouldn’t be right not to mention other traditions associated with Three Kings Day.
First, Christmas trees are usually taken down on Three Kings Day (and any remaining sweets tied to the tree are eaten). Second, a cake is usually baked with a bean or some other surprise inside. Whoever finds said surprise is declared king (or queen) for the day. Third, in some regions children dress up as the kings and go door to door collecting sweets and/or money for the poor.
So, goodbye Christmas season. Hello…. spring?