January 6, 2007

Drei-Konigstag (Three Kings’ Day)

I often forget that I’m living in a deeply Catholic city in a deeply Catholic region of Germany until one ordinary Saturday morning I try going to the grocery store, and it’s closed. Then I try going to the baker’s, and it’s closed. Then, on the verge of starvation, Kevin and I try going to a restaurant, and they are all closed.

As it turns out, this is no ordinary Saturday, it’s Epiphany (“Three Kings Day,” the Germans call it), an official Bavarian holiday, and everyone has the day off. Needless to say, Bavarian Catholics take this holiday a little more seriously than us Methodists. But from what I’ve seen of their traditions so far, I am charmed.

On Epiphany, all the little school children form groups of three and dress up as the three kings from the Bible. Then they canvass from door to door, singing Christmas carols and taking donations for charity. After you’ve donated – and how could you not? These kids are precious! – the three little kings leave a chalk marking on your door frame:


This is ancient Aramaic graffiti that translates roughly into “Caspar, Bathlasar, and Mordecai were here, 2007,” and it tells other wandering minstrel groups not to hit up your house for any more money.

But if I thought these miniature kings were cute, they had nothing on the adult version. Later that night, as Kevin and I were heading back home from our one and only meal of the day, we passed by a plaza teaming with people. As we moved in for closer inspection, we were nearly trampled by three adult kings, dressed in elaborate robes, riding on three very skittish and over-loaded ponies. Other members of the crowd were burning frankincense and carrying large flaming torches.

Then before we knew what was happening, we were carried along by the crowd through the streets of downtown Würzburg. The parade ended at the front steps of the Dom, Würzburg’s largest church, where a brass band was playing Christmas carols. The Three Kings got off their horses and presented their gifts to the life-size statues of the Holy Family seated beneath largest Christmas tree in town. Then everyone in town chimed in and sang, too.

Although I know that the spectacle was really to welcome the birth of the “Baby Jesus,” but Kevin and I couldn’t help feeling that the city was putting on a little show to welcome us to town, too.


s.e.razer said...

this is why you and i get on so well - we are both a little egocentric. while you believe 3 Kings Day is a "welcome to town sarah ligon", i believe the stopping of traffic or sudden red-sea separation on the sidewalk is all for me to cross at my will or have a clear path. :) but without our very strong self-esteem where would we be? i think we can enjoy it a few more years. welcome to my episcopalian world - we do epiphany well. did the 'kings', either adult or children, wear masks?

the Collector said...

I love you, SER! Thanks for not faulting me for my vanity. And actually none of the kings wore masks, but Balthasar (or was it Mordecai) wore black face. I kid you not! Apparently, fat white guys covering their faces with shoe polish isn't considered in bad taste here.

s.e.razer said...

[read this in your best razer story-telling voice] vanity is needed in some respect. otherwise, would people shower? if we didn't care what other people thought of us or that they noticed our new stilleto black boots (which i wore for the first time today) then where would our good behavior come from? we behave because we have been taught those are the rules, people watch, and of course the 'permanent record' of our school days! vanity is actually benefitting society when you think about it (cleanliness, good behavior). it is patriotic to be vain - and to shower! :) (note my sarcasm, please.)