Recently one of my friends asked me what does the K + M + B means on people’s door? She said she has noticed these 3 letters written in white chalk on Polish houses front door, usually in January. That’s why I decide to write about Epiphany – a religious holiday celebrated on January 6th.
This important holiday of God’s Revelation (Objawienie Boga) was celebrated as early as the 3rd century. The early Christians in the East celebrated Christmas on January 6th, when according to the tradition God manifested Himself to the world as the three Wise Men of the East.
In the 4th century, after the introduction of Christmas holiday to the liturgy of Roman (Western) Church, Epiphany, in Poland known as Three Kings Day, became a separate holiday celebrated in memory of the tribute paid to the newborn Jesus by the Wise Men from the East: Casper, Melchior and Balthazar (Kacper, Malchior i Baltazar).
Various customs were once observed in Poland on this day, which closed the period of “szczodre dni” from December 26th to January 6th. It was a day celebrated with visits, treats and handing out small gifts. On this merry day various kinds of Christmas carol singers came around and this time they included the Three Kings in golden crowns of cardboard and worn out chasubles (szaty ze starych ornatów) borrowed from church sacristy (kościelna zakrystia). As usual, they gave their wishes to household members and asked for some offerings (datki).
To commemorate the gifts that the three kings presented to baby Jesus: gold (złoto), frankincense (kadzidło) and myrrh (mirra), on their feast Polish kings and magnates used to pas gifts to their own courtiers. Sometimes relatives in wealthy families exchanged gifts too. In all houses, in towns and villages alike, children were given treats, mostly red apples and nuts, so they would have healthy glowing cheeks and strong teeth. No one was refused food or money on that day.
On Epiphany evening in towns and manor houses an almond king (król migdałowy) was elected. The game, popular in Western Europe (especially in France and England), soon came into fashion also in Poland. To choose an almond king, special cakes were prepared. They were gingerbreads and sweet scones and an almond was hidden inside one of them. The person who found it became an almond king. An almond queen (migdałowa królowa) was chosen the same way. “The royal couple” took honorable seats at the table. They also had some special obligations. They were supposed to entertain guests and ensure a lot of fun for them during that night.
These days Epiphany is a religious (in recent years it became a national holiday) feast celebrated in Church, where pieces of chalk and myrrh are blessed by a priest. People can take pieces of the blessed chalk home. With that chalk they write on their front door the current year (or sometimes the exact date) and the initials of three kings: K+M+B. It also can be C+M+B, which is also interpreted as Christus mansionem benedicat (Let Christ bless this house).
Do następnego razu! (Till next time…)