COLUMN: 20 + C + M + B + 12

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The letters and numerals inscribed above the doors of homes in the Belgian town had me scratching my head a few years ago, but come Friday, I may have scrawled a similar message above my door in New Boston.

20 + C + M + B + 12

Friday was the traditional day for observing Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, by the way, began Christmas Day and concluded the night of Jan. 5.

Epiphany, which can mean manifestation or revelations, marks several things about Christians’ understanding of God as revealed in the human Jesus, most commonly the biblical visit of the magi to the infant Jesus.

If you’re not familiar with the story, read Chapter 2 in the gospel of Matthew.

Many churches marked Epiphany Sunday.

The numerals and letters I noticed above the doorposts of homes in the city of Arlon, not far from Luxembourg, was an observation of the custom of marking the year with the initials of three names of the magi who visited the Christ child.

While their names aren’t in the Bible, the names of the wisemen bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh were supposedly Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior. Many people recognize those names as streets in Christmas Lake Village.

It’s common in many European countries, as well as areas of the United States, for pastors to visit congregation members’ homes and to bless the abodes.

In Europe, it’s common for the father of each house to lead an Epiphany service.

After the prayers of the blessing are recited, each room of the home is sprinkled with Epiphany water. The initials of the magi are inscribed upon the doors with chalk, along with the year.

Thus this year’s inscription would be 20 + C + M + B + 12.

The initials can also be interpreted as the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” which means “Christ bless this house.”

There is a custom in Germany for children to go from house to house gathering donations for the poor. Some of the kids are dressed as the three kings. Like modern carolers, they stop at each house, sing songs and deliver Christmas-season greetings.

At each house they mark the letters and numbers.

While not everyone wants chalk letters and numbers above their doors and kids scrawling on houses would probably take a little explaining to homeowners and the police, it might be a good custom for some families to consider.

Marking your doorpost a few days after Epiphany won’t hurt.

It certainly adds a little meaning to the 12 days of Christmas. Chalk washes away, by the way, so the letters and numbers aren’t permanent fixtures to your entryway.