Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Mark of Three

Wander around many Czech towns at this time of year and you might notice on lintels and doors the letters K, M and B written in chalk as above. Sometimes the letters come with the year and sometimes you will see several sets of letters dating back several years. You may wonder what these stand for. Perhaps it is a sign that the electricity meter has been read, you think, or some sort of building work. Perhaps it is a sign like those one used to see in English villages - a coded message from a tramp or hobo, gypsy or fellow inhabitant of the road, that this is a house where the inhabitants are generous.

In fact of those options you would be closer to the truth with the last - it is a sign that the inhabitants have been generous. But the visitors were not down-at-heel beggers, but three kings. Twelfth Night in the Czech Republic is known as Three Kings Day, because on that day children (and adults) dress up as the three kings - Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar (in Czech Kašpar, Melichar and Baltazar) and go around the streets asking for donations to charity. When the householder has put their donation in the tin, the "Kings" write the initials K M and B above the door. What do the initials stand for? I have heard different answers - one simply that they are the initials of the kings' names and another that it stands for the words: Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ, bless this house). Of course both answers could be true.

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