If you’re visiting the Czech Republic from January 1 until the 16, you may come across some groups of caroling children dressed up as the three kings or wise men who – according to the Christian tradition- followed the star of Bethlehem and were lead to the infant baby Jesus to present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Known elsewhere as “Epiphany”, in the Czech Republic this holiday is commonly referred to as “Three King’s Day” (Tři králové) and signifies the end of the holiday season in the Czech lands. There is also a folk superstition that leaving Christmas decorations up after Epiphany will bring bad luck, so some Czechs follow this superstition and take down their Christmas decorations around this time.
Groups of wandering carollers sing “My tři králové jdeme k Vám, štěstí, zdraví vinšujeme Vám” – “We three kings come to you and wish you health and happiness.”. And just as the three wise men gave gifts to the infant baby Jesus, carolers also provide spectators an opportunity to donate money to Caritas International’s- one of the largest charities raising money to “[provide] relief to development and social service organizations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide.” Additionally Charitas International provides “more than 750 different types of services and social and healthcare centers… 6,700 full-time employees, works together with 50,000 volunteers… and helps more than 80,000 people every year. Caritas Czech Republic is the most significant non-governmental provider of social services in the Czech Republic.”
Spectators can always trust that their donations are going directly to Charitas: volunteers will always be accompanied by an adult with a membership card that they can show upon request to prove their legitimate association with the Caritas charity operation. Real donation boxes will always be locked and have serial numbers that match those on the charity membership card. Donations can be put directly into the donation boxes (Czech crowns are preferred, but they accept Euros) or sent directly to Caritas via their official website: https://praha.charita.cz/en/donate/
Carollers then bestow their blessings on a home by writing the initials K+M+B in chalk which stand for the names of the wise men: Kašpar, Melichar, and Baltazar. The initials also stand for the Latin saying Christus mansionem benedicat (“May Jesus Christ bless this house”).
Though there are festivities before and after January 6, the culmination of these festivities take place on January 6 which is when Epiphany is traditionally celebrated. Before COVID, there was also traditionally a procession on this day with three actors dressed as the three kings riding camels and accompanied by trumpeters and drummers as they walked from the Lesser Town side of Prague, over the Charles Bridge, and ended at the Old Town Square. Naturally the annual festivity draws many spectators and the city cannot guarantee that such a large crowd would be able to comply with anti-COVID restrictions so the major Three Kings’ procession has been canceled this year. However, you can still catch groups of young carolers adorably dawning their crowns and kingly robes.
According to the Orthodox tradition, Epiphany also marks the day that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The word ‘epiphany’ comes from the Greek word ‘epiphaneia’ which means ‘manifestation’. Manifestation in the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit or a divine being taking on a visible form; in the case of Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove immediately after Jesus was baptized. Although Epiphany is a few weeks later in the Orthodox calendar, some brave Czechs will also celebrate this occasion of Jesus’s life (albeit on January 6 and not the later Orthodox date since the Catholic church was the dominant religious force for centuries) by stripping down to their swimsuits, plunging into the icy cold waters of the Vltava River, and swimming across in Prague’s annual Three King’s Swimming event.
For Christ’s sake (quite literally) the author of this article hopes the temperature of the Jordan River was a bit warmer than that of the Vltava River during His baptism.