Tuesday, January 6, 2015

We Three Kings of Orient Are...

The end of the Christmas season -
Three Kings' Day

For many Americans, Christmas decorations are boxed up and put away shortly after Christmas Day.  Others use New Year's Day for this chore.  In Germany, the Christmas season doesn't end until January 6 (remember the twelve days of Christmas?  Yep, Jan. 6 is the last day.)  Three Kings' Day (or Dreikoenigstag here in Germany) marks the day the three wise men finally made it to Bethlehem to see the baby in the manger, and in several German states it's an official holiday.  Certainly, it marks the end of the Weihnachts season.

January 5; decorations will come down on the 7th!
Our day trip excursion yesterday was to a town about an hour northeast of Heidelberg, on the Main River, in the region called the Odenwald.  Miltenberg is charming and we enjoyed the many half-timbered buildings, the castle on the hill overlooking the river, and the towers and town gate.

As we strolled through the town, we noticed two different groups of kids doing their annual good deed for their church.  On Three Kings' Day (or the several days preceeding it) groups of children dress up as the three kings and visit local stores and homes.  They knock, enter, sing a little song about the three kings, and then ask for a donation for the church (or for church projects).  They are called Sternsingers (star singers) and while they aren't always in groups of three, or all male, or even strictly representing the Three Wise Men specifically, the two groups we saw were definitely dressed as three kings, right down to black face paint on one child in each group.

Once the donation has been secured, the home or business receives its chalk marking.  Above the door, the children (or an adult helper) makes this notation:  20 * C + M + B + 15.  This shows the world that the residents have donated to the church and is considered good luck, or a blessing on the house.  The 20 and 15 represent the year, the three plus signs represent the Holy Trinity, and the star represents the star of Bethlehem; these sandwich the initials of the three kings (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar) or offer the blessing "Christus Mansionem Benedicat" (depending on who is translating the chalked markings for you.)

Sternsingers, dressed up, with traditional star attached to a stick, running to the next store.
The other group of Sternsingers.  Note the black face paint.
The two groups didn't appear to be in competition with one another. They each stayed on their own side of the street, visiting each store, singing their song, collecting their donation, and blessing the business by erasing last year's 14 and rechalking this year's 15.

In our neighborhood, we saw Sternsingers at a nearby house the day before, and hoped that they would make their way up the street to our house.  Sadly, they piled back into the van they arrived in and zoomed off.  Maybe today we'll get lucky and get our blessing!

(But truly, when a simple day trip results in memories like these, we are certainly already blessed!)

1 comment:

  1. I always wondered about the chalk markings. Thanks for sharing your cool blog. Hx