There are three apartments on my floor, mine and two others. On the doors of the other two apartments there are strange and mysterious inscriptions written in chalk. They look like this:
Amongst the welter of bewildering and unfamiliar details that one is faced with in a foreign country it took me a long time to even notice them. Once I had noticed them though I very often looked at them as I was going in or out. I would vaguely wonder about them in the way that one vaguely wonders about things while doing semi-automatic routine tasks such as locking or unlocking a door, and then forget all about it by the time I was halfway down the stairs. It was only through a chance conversation with my girlfriend the other day that I found out what they were.
Every year, just after Christmas, it’s traditional for the local parish priest to visit all the households in the neighborhood and touch them for cash. There’s probably some praying and blessing that goes on too. This annual visit is known as kolęda. In more traditional neighborhoods kolęda is anxiously anticipated. The house is scrubbed from top to bottom and the table is loaded with the finest and most lovingly prepared food and drink. The poor priest must be absolutely groaning by the time he gets half way round, and he has to do this day after day if he has a big parish. I suspect this may be the real reason for Lent. It gives overstuffed priests a chance to shed the 17 kilos they put on during kolęda.
I have no idea if this is true elsewhere, but in Krakow the priest writes an inscription on the door of each home he has visited to show that it has been blessed. This is what I saw on my neighbors doors. Here’s another one:
K + M + B are the initials of Kacper, Melchior, and Baltazar; the Polish names for the Magi (or the Three Wise Men) who visited the infant Jesus. And the date is, well, the date. I rather like this tradition and I’m quite prepared to overlook the fact that in this case the visiting holy man takes gifts away with him rather than bringing any with him. It’s kind of sad that it’s dying out. In my building these are the only two apartments that have the blessing mark and one of those is three years old. If you ever find yourself in Krakow, look out for them.
A couple of things I wondered, just because I’m like that. Is the old inscription wiped off by the priest himself and, if so, does he do it before he goes into the home or as he leaves? And does he write the new one straight away? And do they have some kind of special cloth or blessed chalk for wiping off and writing on? I’m not being flippant, I like to know these things, honest!
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