Friday, January 6, 2012

Svátek Tří králů - Three Kings Day

This past week I really hated seeing Christmas trees already stripped of decorations, removed from their homes, and just sitting curbside awaiting pick-up.  Seriously, the day after Christmas the streets were littered with discarded trees!  It makes me sad really that people are so eager to end the holiday, and even sadder yet that they didn't wait until the last day of the 12 Days of Christmas to take their tree down.  That last day being today.

The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of January 5th, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed.  Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. In some traditions, the first day of Epiphany (January 6) and the twelfth day of Christmas overlap.

In the Czech Republic, today is known as Svátek Tří králů, Three Kings Day.  The Three Kings, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, also known as wise men from the east, saw a bright star on the night that Christ was born. They followed it to Bethlehem and met the baby Jesus, to whom they gave three gifts:gold, myrrh and frankincense.  Based on Biblical stories, the three kings represented three life stages - history, presence, and future (young, middle-aged, and old king).  The oldest man also had a dark face that represented the shadow of death.

Did you ever see "K+M+B" written on a door or over a doorway?  Usually in chalk, sometimes followed by a year?  Well, if you have the three letters are the initials of the Three Kings and it shows that they've been to visit, but the inscription also stands for Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house), and is intended to wish health and luck on the occupants for the coming year, which is why the chalk is left up even when Three Kings Day is over.

Today, tradition has evolved to one of collecting for charity.  You may come upon youngsters dressed as K+M+B and if you do, spare them some change, it's for a good cause and keeps an old local tradition alive.