Christians first celebrated the Epiphany (or "the manifestation") in northern Africa sometime during the third century. This means our church first celebrated the "Day of the Three Kings" even before we observed Christmas itself. In many parts of the world, Epiphany traditionally follows the "12th night of Christmas" on Jan. 6, but in the United States it now falls on the Sunday after Jan. 1. In 2011, this is Sunday, Jan. 2.
Families celebrate this ancient feast in many ways. On Epiphany, the figures of the Magi finally arrive, making the Christmas crèche complete. In many families, the three Magi are moved a bit closer to the crib each day from Christmas until Epiphany. In some cultural traditions, families exchange small presents to recall the Magi’s traditional gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.
The Epiphany house blessing is another popular custom. Using blessed chalk (see the prayer of blessing below), many families mark above the entrance door of their homes with the year and with the inscription CMB, the initials of the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar (example: 20 + C + M + B + 11). The inscription also stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for "Christ, bless this house."
Blessing of Chalk: O God of heaven and earth, we ask for your blessing on this chalk, to make it helpful to us. Grant that we who use it in faith to inscribe upon the entrance of our home may enjoy physical health and spiritual protection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
House Blessing: Christ, bless this house, and all who live within it. Let all who visit our home this year rejoice to find you dwelling among us. May we seek and serve you, Jesus, in everyone we meet, forever and ever. Amen.