Three Kings Prague Festival

Three Kings Prague Festival

Do a Google search for Three Kings and you’ll probably get options for a film. This post is about the festival, how it came about and why people write on doors with chalk only on January 6th each year.

the characters C+M+B 2017 written in chalk on a wooden door
A simple version of a Three Kings blessing

Why is the Three Kings Prague Festival on January 6th?

Czech follows something called Eastern Christianity. If you assume that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th then it would be 12 nights later that the three wise men follow the star to the stable and present their offerings of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the Christ child. Therefore the 12th night falls on January 6th. Note here that this is using the Roman calendar. Countries with faiths that use the Gregorian calendar (like Russia and parts of the Balkans) have the festival on January 19th

Does Everyone have a Three Kings Festival?

Any Christian country will have this festival but it may be called by it’s official title of Epiphany Eve. The following day would then be the feast day of Epiphany (defined as “a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization”).

door in czech decorated with a three kings marker k+m+b2020
A more decorative door for a Three Kings mark

What is C+M+B?

If you’re lucky you’ll find a group walking around the city scrawling what looks like graffiti on people’s doors but look closely and you’ll see letters and numbers. Take this year 2020 as an example. Normally on the door/frame you would initially notice the letters i.e. C, M and B. In a historical sense it’s an abbreviation of “Christus mansionem benidicat” or May Christ Bless This House. These are the initials of the three wise men Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In Czech, Caspar can be spelled as Kaspar so sometimes you also see K, M and B. I’ll point out examples of these on the Walking Tours.

K+M+B 2020 three kings blessing written in liquid pink chalk on a door frame in prague
Look carefully and you can see the chalk 2019 underneath

So the actual written form (there are differences as you can see) should be 20+C+M+B+20 i.e. the year with the three kings blessing in the middle or more likely just C+M+B+2020. That little + is not a plus sign, it’s supposed to be a Christian cross. The picture above shows a Three Kings blessing but it looks like it was made using a liquid chalk marker.

Three Kings Prague – Historical

Once upon a time the church congregation having prayed on the eve of Epiphany would receive chalk and holy water that had been blessed. The chalk would then be used to write the message on your own door or door frame. The water would be sprinkled in the house. Both encouraged good luck for the coming year. There would also be the final carols sung by children dressed as the three kings to be rewarded with gifts and maybe lead casting (you pour molten lead into water and interpret the shape).

Three Kings Prague – Modern Format

Nowadays the Three Kings Prague Festival is a charity event where people can dress up as the Three Kings but they do not enter the house and the chalk is often not blessed. The thing now is that you can’t give yourself the blessing and you can’t ask for a blessing. It has to be freely given by a stranger. There are still the carol singers dressed as the Three Kings (with accompanying adults) and people are encouraged to make donations via the Archdiocese of Prague to the Caritas charity which runs a string of national and international Catholic charity programs. In a sign of the times 1) official carol singing groups have a special ID card to prevent fraud and 2) in 2019 a hundred official groups had contactless payment terminals. In 2019 Caritas raised just short of CZK120 Million (approximately £4 Million) during the festival.

door in czech decorated with a three kings marker c+m+b mmxxi
A rare 2021 Three Kings during the Pandemic (we were in lockdown) with Roman numerals

Winter Swimming

You know when you see people on the news swimming in cold water or even in lanes cut into ice in more extreme climates. This is also a January 6th festival and is often mistakenly associated with Three Kings. It’s connected with Jesus but this time it was his baptism. So when you see people plunging into ice water it’s to recreate that baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

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