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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!


A German New Year’s Celebration

1 Jan

If there is one thing about celebrating the new year in Germany that stands out for me, it would have to be the fireworks.  A few days before the 31st, the stores put fireworks on sale.  People buy them up like crazy.  Then, starting at six in the evening on New Year’s Eve, the night sky lights up in a smoky haze, culminating at midnight with an almost unbelievable amount of fireworks lighting up the night sky in every direction you turn.  Just imagine everyone on your street simultaneously setting off fireworks on the sidewalk in front of their house, and you will have an idea of what ringing in a German new year is like.

Another fun tradition in Germany is called Bleigießen.  This is a fortune-telling tradition.  Basically, you take a small lead figure and melt it in a spoon over a candle.  When it becomes liquid, you pour it quickly into a bowl of cold water.  Then, you look at the shape it has formed and that determines your fortune in the new year.  Unfortunately, my figure ended up as an unidentifiable object…so 2011 still holds many secrets for me.

Here are a few pictures of my own little fireworks show!