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Epiphany closes Christmas season

Tradition runs deep in villages such as Selec, close to Trenčín.
photo: TASR

CHRISTIANS across Slovakia celebrated the festival of Epiphany, or "Three Kings' Day" (Traja králi), on Saturday, January 6. According to the Bible, three wise men (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) from the East were led by a star to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, arriving twelve days after his birth to present gifts of gold (for a king), frankincense (for a priest), and myrrh (as a symbol of suffering). The kings' pilgrimage, their arrival in Bethlehem, and a presentation of gifts are a traditional part of Nativity scenes and plays.

In Slovak villages, the holiday used to be celebrated with carolling, masses and other festivities. Priests blessed houses with holy water while their acolytes swung censers filled with fragrant thyme.

Other customs included placing three crosses lined with garlic and holy water above each door in a house to ward off evil spirits.

People also went to church to have their candles, salt, water, and chalk blessed, which, they believed, aided healing, prevented natural disasters, and helped harvest crops.

Even nowadays, boys dressed as the Three Kings visit households in towns and villages to sing carols and write C + M + B and the year. Originally, this was a Latin blessing, Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates to "may Christ bless this house", but can also be understood as the Three Kings' initials. In return, the boys get sweets or some pocket change.

The Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas holiday and the start of fašiangy, or Shrovetide, the carnival period that lasts until Ash Wednesday (which falls on February 21 this year).

- by Jana Liptáková

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