Chalking The Doors In Germany : A Tradition Explained
What Does 20*C+M+B+16 Mean on Doors in Germany?
If you have ever been in Germany during Christmas and noticed letters and numbers written in chalk on doors (but have no idea what it means) don’t be ashamed. You’re certainly not alone. A recent visit to the Mosel in south west Germany over New Year meant a bit of detective work upon my return.
Epiphany (also known as Twelfth Night or Three Kings Day) marks the occasion of a time-honored Christian tradition in Germany of “chalking the doors.” The formula for the ritual — adapted for 2016 — is simple: take chalk of any color and write the following above the entrance of your home: 20 * C+ M + B + 16.
The letters are an abbreviation of the Latin phrase, Christus mansionem benedicat: “May Christ bless the house.” The “*” represents the star of Bethlehem. The “+” signs represent the cross, and the “20” at the beginning and the “16” at the end mark the year in question. Taken together, this inscription is performed as a request that Christ to bless the homes so marked and those who live there.
The chalking of doors is a popular tradition on Epiphany or Dreikönigstag in southern Germany, where it is common to see groups of children called Sternsinger (literally star singers) go from house to house dressed in kingly costumes and carrying a star. They sing a song, recite a poem about the three kings, write a blessing on the door frame and collect a donation for a charity. People they visit may also give them a treat – some chocolate, candy, etc. – no doubt to give them energy to carry on through the day.
The timing for the chalking of the doors varies somewhat in practice. In some places, it is done on New Year’s Day. More commonly, it is performed on the Twelfth Day of Christmas — the traditional Feast of the Epiphany. Most often the chalking takes place after Epiphany Mass, and can be done at any church, home, or dwelling.
The use of pre-printed stickers with an adhesive backing featuring the Epiphany Blessing are also used in Germany, as an alternative to chalk, making it much easier and quicker to remove after the festive season.