Three Kings Day (Tři králové), traditionally celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas, signifies the end of the holiday season in the Czech lands while offering an opportunity to extend charitable giving by making donations to roving wise men.
It’s also the time when Czechs take down their trees, pack up the decorations, and visit the Christmas markets for the last time.
The Meaning of K + M + B
Celebrated elsewhere in the world as Epiphany, on the biblical timeline, it’s when the wise men were said to have arrived in Bethlehem bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In the Czech Republic children dress up as kings and go from home to home caroling from January 1 onward (“My tři králové jdeme k Vám, štěstí, zdraví vinšujeme Vám” – “We three kings are coming to you and wishing you health and happiness.”).
Following the visit, the letters K + M + B are chalked onto the doors of visited homes – the initials stand for the names of the wise men Kašpar, Melichar, and Baltazar or the Latin saying Christus mansionem benedicat (“May Jesus Christ bless this house”), with the crosses representing the Holy Trinity.
An Ancient Re-Enactment In Prague
In Prague, the occasion is marked by a festive annual processional led by costumed kings on camels, who are accompanied by drummers and trumpeters.
As in past years, the 2018 parade will begin at 15:00 (January 5) at the Church of St Thomas in the Lesser Town and head over the Charles Bridge into Old Town Square where the kings will bestow their gifts in a live nativity ceremony followed by a performance of the Czech Christmas Mass by Jakub Jan Ryba.
Visitors can make a donation during the event to disadvantaged families—books, toys, games, or school equipment are welcome, according to Czech Catholic Charity which organizes the event.
Trigger alert: While many countries across Europe, including Madrid, have decided that the playing of Balthazar by a white man in blackface is inappropriate, Czechs still typically adhere to the custom.
Take an Icy Epiphany Plunge in the Vltava
Another Prague event taking place during the Three Kings period is an icy swim in the Vltava River, an annual tradition organized by the Charles Bridge Museum and Prague Venice—take the plunge and get free admission to the museum. This year the event takes place on January 6 and will see a trio of kings lead a crew of brave swimmers into arctic waters.
Lead photo: Flickr / Igracek