From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past (12)

Three Kings Day -- Heilege Drei Könige



Today was the 12th day of Christmas, tonight is "Twelfth Night" and this is my 12th and final "Christmas Ghosts" post. Tomorrow, the celebration of Christmas ends, and the celebration of Epiphany begins in many Christian churches of the West.

Epiphany commemorates (among other things) the Magi's visit to the young child, Jesus, and in Germany, the first Sunday in Epiphany is even called "Three Kings" -- Heilige Drei Könige.

There is an old German custom that costumed boys go from house to house on the eve of Epiphany, carrying water and incense blessed by the priest. They sing carols and solicit treats for themselves and donations for charities. They are the Star Singers -- Sternsänger.

Someone from the group may walk through the house with incense to rid it of evil, write the initials "CMB" (for the traditional names of the Wise Men: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) and the number for the new year over the front door ("20 CMB 07"), sprinkle some water, and say a little prayer asking for protection for the house.

I didn't know anything about this custom when the costumed children in the photo at right knocked on my door. It was January 5, 1988, and we were living in the little Bavarian village of Kleinwallstadt (literally translated "Small Barrier City") on the Main River near Frankfort, Germany.

It was easy to see that these boys were dressed as the Wise Men, and it seemed that I should offer them some cookies and leftover candy canes in exchange for the little song they sang to me. I did so, and they accepted. If they were collecting coins, I didn't realize that. They were pleased to pose for the snapshot. We exchanged a few sentences of German and English and then they went on their way, on down the street.

Curious about whether I had responded correctly by feeding my visitors, I later questioned my German neighbors and read more about the custom in my trusty guidebooks to Germany. I guess I may have missed my chance to have our house cleansed, marked, and blessed. I really don't know if they had incense and water with them or not.

These boys in their kingly costumes are probably in their early thirties now, but they're forever young in my memory and in my photo of them -- young and enjoying their costumed caroling adventure!

Merry Christmas!

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.