Three Wise Men visit Krakow

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!

If you enjoyed this post why not visit my personal blog Wyspianski Unwinding
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13 thoughts on “Three Wise Men visit Krakow

  1. Marzena Fijałkowska says:

    Yes, you can find this tradition in other parts of the country too, not only in Lesser Poland.

    My family is not religious however, and I can’t give you more information about kolęda. The chalk must be blessed, that’s one thing I’m sure of.

    I’m only surprised with the number of pluses. My neighbours usually had K+M+B Year.

  2. island1 says:

    Thanks for the comment Marzena.

    I also suspect it must be blessed chalk; who would have thought such a thing could exist :)

    Perhaps the number of pluses/crosses reflects how happy the priest is with your performance that year!

  3. island1 says:

    Ah yes, the legend that is Becca! Unfortunately she has buggered off to foreign climes and no longer gives us the benefit of her wisdom as far as Poland is concerned.

  4. darthsida says:

    1. If the doors could talk, they’d ask: is it the writing on the wall?
    2. Used to irritate me: to see own intitials nearly every door, I mean.

    Blessing the chalk in 2 languages.

  5. kung fu karate miszcz says:

    this sounds a bit pagan, doesn’t it? like the blessing was to prevent demons from attacking the household.

  6. island1 says:

    Kung fu: I hate to say it but it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the more, shall we say ‘committed,’ faithful believe that. *Evil thought* Should I sneakily wipe it off my neighbor’s door and see what happens!

  7. stokrotka says:

    Look at the top picture again. You can see the last number of the year and the last cross has been erased and a new number written there.

  8. island1 says:

    Stokrotka: You’re absolutely right! Good eye! Now I’m slightly disappointed, somehow it takes the magic away :(

  9. Becca says:

    ooh. never been called a legend before, thanks island1. you made me feel old. yeah, the beauty of Poland is all tied up in the mysterious rituals and secret rules. I loved uncovering them. unfortunately although belgium has its own rituals and secret rules, they are somehow less intriguing…

  10. island1 says:

    Becca: We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy! (If you think you’re feeling old, imagine how old you feel when you start referencing Wayne’s World)

    It’s true; “The Mysterious Rituals and Secrets of Belgium” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it does it.

  11. […] Three Wise Men visit Krakow 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. […]

  12. Michał says:

    Well, it really should be “Ch+M+B” which stands for “Christi mantionem benedicat”.

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