A German Epiphany!

6 Jan

20 + C + M + B + 11

I have seen this strange inscription written in chalk over the front doors of many houses in my neighborhood since my arrival in Germany.  Only recently did I find out what this puzzling equation represents.

January 6th: The 12th Day of Christmas

Germany, and Bavaria in particular, has kept many religious holidays on the calendar, including January 6th: the Epiphany celebration.  I first started paying regular tribute to this holiday in France.  Although it is not a bank holiday there, I got used to celebrating with a piece of “king cake”, the notorious galette des rois made out of pastry and marzipan.  However, I would have to say that this is by no means a particularly spiritual experience.

In Germany, the religious traditions linked to this holiday are still very much alive.  The tradition of blessing houses linked to Epiphany celebrations here can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The inscription (20+C+M+B+11) is in fact a blessing over each household and all those who pass through.

It can be read in the following way.  The numbers at the beginning and end, 20+11, correspond to the new year: 2011. So these change each year.

The letters have a dual-reading.  First of all, they correspond to the initials of the three wise men: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  The word “Epiphany” comes from a Greek root that evokes the idea of an “appearance” or “apparition,” and this holiday traditionally celebrates the appearance of Christ and the visit of the Three Kings.  Secondly, the three letters also symbolize a latin blessing: Christus mansionem benedicat (may Christ bless this house).


"Sternsinger" - 3 "star singers" come on the Epiphany dressed as the 3 Kings to sing a traditional song and perform the blessing. They also collect donations for charity.



That is all there is to it!  So, now that the puzzle is solved, wishing everyone a wonderful Epiphany!


2 Responses to “A German Epiphany!”

  1. Karl January 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    And here’s a reply to you, to wish you a wonderful epiphany also, and to thank you for all of the nice lessons you have been providing about Germany on this blog.

  2. E. January 13, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Well, I’ll go to bed tonight a bit less stupid !! I did not know any of that !! Thanks !!

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