During Epiphany a number of Polish cities will see colourful pageants of carol singers and people in fancy dress. The marchers are led by Three Wise Men of the East, who came to Bethlehem to worship newly born Jesus Christ, as the Gospel of Matthew has it.
Epiphany has a long tradition in Poland. The custom of blessing gold and frankincense appeared in Poland at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, with the latter ingredient having often been replaced with burnt resin. In addition, people would protect their households against evil powers with smoke. Today, it is frankincense and myrrh that religious Poles bring to churches for blessing, i.e. gifts that the kings presented to the babyJesus according to the gospel. Since the 18th century, it has also been common in Poland to bless a piece of chalk on Epiphany day and then use it to inscribe the letters “K+M+B” and the current year number over the door. Contrary to a popular belief, the letters do not stand for the Kings’ names (Caspar is Kacper in Polish) but are derived from the Latin abbreviation “C+M+B”, which means Christus Mansionem Benedicat (“May Christ bless this house”).
Starting in 2011, Polish towns and cities have been host to Three Kings’ processions that combine a family nativity play with a parade of carol singers, Herods, devils and the Three Wise Men of the East. The first such procession took place in Warsaw as early as 2009 and was an expanded version of the nativity play staged at the Żagle school. Following Polish President’s decision to make Epiphany an official non-working public holiday in 2011, the initiative was endorsed by Poland’s five major cities: Szczecin, Gdansk, Poznan, Krakow and Wroclaw. Local authorities and Church officials are patrons of the parades. Over a hundred cities are expected to join the initiative this year.
Towns and cities try to out do each other in making their pageants as elaborate and big as possible. If you happen to visit the Tricity of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia on Epiphany day, don’t miss out on the thematic scenes that will be showcased along the procession route. They will include a Dialogue with God’s Angel and Herod’s Court. What is more, the parade in Gdynia will be joined by real soldiers. In Warsaw one of the Three Kings rides on camelback. To make the Krakow procession even more magical, colourful devils encourage participants to stray away from the route, while angels encourage people to visit the crib at the Market Square. The crib features Krakow families with their new-born babies posing as the Holy Family.