Monday, June 4, 2012

Epiphany. The Holiday kind.

So.  To recap from last week, a question was posed regarding these patterned doorways -

 Upon first glance, seeing this combination etched above random doorways through places we ILP teachers commonly went led me to believe it might have been the work of some teenage punks. Nope. Amanda is clearly a relative of Carissa and immediately Googled the mystery.  Turns out, it's part of a traditional Polish celebration of "Epiphany" or "Three Kings Day"!!

More or less, the ritual goes something like this - on Twelfth Night, Jan. 6, Poles take small boxes containing chalk, a gold ring, incense and a piece of amber, in memory of the gifts of the Magi, to church to be blessed. Once at home, they inscribe the date and "K+M+B" with the blessed chalk above every door in the house to provide protection against illness and misfortune for those within. For 2011, it would look like "20 K+M+B 11." The letters, with a cross after each one, stand for names of the Three Kings -- Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They remain above the doors all year until they are inadvertently dusted off or replaced by new markings the next year.

As I was researching this "Three Kings Day", I was surprised at how many countries celebrate this holiday!! It's pretty funny actually - each country seems to have it's own spin on the festivities.  Some countries are boring and simply take down the greenery and nativity scenes that were put up at Christmas, and others do all sorts of crazy stuff!

Bulgaria - Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January and is known as Bogoyavlenie ("Manifestation of God"). On this day, a wooden cross is thrown by a priest into the sea, river or lake and young men race to retrieve it.  As the date is in early January and the waters are close to freezing, this is considered an honorable act and it is said that good health will be bestowed upon the home of the swimmer who is the first to reach the cross.  Then, as a bonus, in the town of Kalofer, a traditional horo with drums and bagpipes is played in the icy waters of the Tundzha river before the throwing of the cross.  Bagpipes and hypothermia. What a combo.

Belgium/Netherlands - this day is called Driekoningen, and is more or less an early Halloween!  Children in groups of three (symbolizing the three kings) proceed in costume from house to house while singing songs typical for the occasion, and receiving a coin or some sweets at each door. They may each carry a paper lantern symbolizing the star of Bethlehelm.

England - This is also similar to a familiar holiday, April Fools Day!! Plus, anything spicy or hot, like ginger snaps and spiced ale, was considered proper Twelfth Night fare, recalling the costly spices brought by the Wise Men.

Latvia - In our glorious sister Baltic state, Epiphany is known as Trijkungu diena (Three Kings Day) or Zvaigznes diena (Star Day) after the custom of star singing, and the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to the Christ Child. Bright stars of fabric were sewn onto the background of dark colored quilts, representing the night sky. Going along with their superstitious selves, Latvians believe that weaving and wood-cutting were “bad luck", giving both men and women a proper holiday.  Plus, as an added bonus, if a dog was heard barking on Epiphany one ought to look for his or her future spouse in that same direction.  Log that formula away, all you BYU folk. And then walk your dog a lot in January!

And my personal favorite:

Colorado, USA - Epiphany day is marked by none other than the "Great Fruitcake Toss". If the name alone isn't great enough, simply imagine Colorado folk dressed as kings/jesters catapulting fruit cakes at each other. Oh, I am proud to be American right now :)

Thanks to Amanda for helping me figure out this goodness, and to Wikipedia for it's endless store of useful knowledge :) (referenced HERE)

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