EPIPHANY ( Trys Karaliai I, 6 )
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, during King Herod’s reign, wise men
from the East came to Jerusalem asking " where is this eminent Jewish King?,
we saw his star rising and came to honor him". These words spread throughout
most Catholic, Protestant nations and on January 6th there were annual
processions representing the Eastern Wise Men - Kings.
In Lithuania, this day of the Three Kings - Epiphany, crowns the twelve
day period after the Winter Solstice - Christmas. Lithuanians called this
period between Christmas,
time between holidays and evenings, holy evenings. Throughout Lithuania,
during this period, women did not spin, mend and men did not chop wood.
In some regions it was even forbidden to handle a knife. All these restrictions
were related to animals. After the long period of Advent, which lasted
from the feast of St. Andrew, November 3rd until Christmas, when
young people were not allowed to conduct any entertainments - therefore
this period of twelve evenings was truly a revival for them. The young
people gathered each evening for dancing, singing, games and other amusements.
All gatherings and amusements came to an end on January 6th , during the
Three Kings processional walks. In Lithuania this holiday preserved numerous
pagan elements. Participants in the processions dressed as supernatural
beings, angels, devils, death. However, the main walkers were three men,
dressed as the Three Kings. One of them with a black face, wearing royal
clothing, a hat decorated with glitter and a linen beard. The Kings’ guide,
an angel, carried a moving candle in his hand The Kings did visit all village
homesteads, wrote their initials, K M B ( Kasparas, Merkelis, Baltazaras
), on the door post upon entering. Often farmers themselves inscribed these
initials, not only on the door post but also above windows, above barn,
stable, granary doors, on chests, grain bins, on the stove near the damper,
using consecrated chalk. Crosses were drawn between the letters, and sometimes
only crosses were drawn - "the placing of the sign of Baptism". It was
believed that the crosses were miraculous symbols, able to protect from
evil spirits, natural calamities, robbers. To keep bees from swarming,
a circle was drawn around the beehive with consecrated chalk.
B.Buraèas wrote about the Three Kings’ procession in Samogitija’s
regions of Ðiauliai and Radviliðkis. He tells how three men dressed
in ancient homespun overcoats, tied them with sashes or towels, with a
gilded sash over their shoulders and crowns or hats on their heads. Hats
were made of straw, stuck with colored papers, cloth and spangles,
carried crooked staffs in their hands. Their Angel guide, usually a
boy or girl, dressed all in white, carried a huge star shape to which are
attached glittering bells. The Three Kings’ walking from village to village,
singing Christmas hymns, checked to see if their initials were on the door
posts. If they found none, they then inscribed their initials. They were
compensated for their behavior with food and drinks and they in turn treated
children with candy and cakes.
The Highlanders’ Kings dressed in sheepskin coats, one in long, another
in short, the third in one turned inside out. A Devil, dressed all in black,
with a long red tongue and a switching tail, walked together with the Three
Kings. His aim was to steal and beg for extra gifts. In the region of Kaiðiadorys,
a prophet dressed in white, was at the head of the procession, ringing
a bell announcing the Three Kings’ arrival and asked for permission to
enter houses. Soldiers, carrying huge swords also accompanied the Three
Kings, carrying gifts received from all the households.
In Dzûkija the Three Kings’ procession rode around with horses.
Some Kings carried a
"mobile Bethlehem", a small creche made of bast bark with Infant Jesus,
figures of Mary, Joseph and the three Wise Men. These figures were made
either of wax or whittled out of wood.
One of the most interesting Three Kings’ tradition was "horse dancing",
in Suvalkia, it went on from New Year through Epiphany. The most lithe
man was covered with a coverlet and held a wooden horse’s head in his hand.
Some young men dressed as gypsies, others as soldiers with wooden swords
by their side, visited their village and neighboring villages. Every village
had their "horse", which was led by a female gypsy with her child. Sometimes
several "horses" met and attempted to remove each others camouflage and
soldiers would fight with swords. The stronger groups took away from the
weaker group, gifts donated by villagers. Some twelve homesteads were visited
in the evening. This horse dancing ended with cutting off of the horses
head. All this took place during the evening of Epiphany day.
In Vilnija, at the beginning of this century, a Queen took part in
the Three Kings’ procession, sometimes the head pagan priest joined in
the procession. The Kings were dressed in white, black and in many colored
clothes. The pagan priest wore a long, gray beard and national clothing.
One king walked taping a hollow metal cane, filled with pebbles. Other
persons in the procession were Mother of God, St .Joseph, a devil, death
and a goat. Two Kings walked, while the third King rode a donkey which
he created by wearing a donkey’s head, hoofs and tail.
On the eve of Epiphany, in the Highlands a cornucopia of food was eaten
at supper, called
"Kûèia". Because most dishes were made with meat, this
supper was called "Fat Kûèia".
Ethnographer J.Kudirka has written that in the thirties, during Kûèia
on Epiphany, that family father walked around stables and barns carrying
a pail filled with wheat, oats, peas and beans. Upon returning to the house,
greeted everyone with "Honor to Jesus", and announced that the Three Kings
had come. He placed the pail, full of grain, on the table. Children surrounded
father and ate peas and beans out of the pail. Then father wrote the Three
Kings’ initials above the door and sat down with the family to the third
P.Dundulis has written about very interesting rites when meeting the
Three Kings. In regions of Eastern Lithuania, after feeding the animals,
father took a container filled with various grains, baptized all the buildings
by writing three crosses on each building. When father entered the house,
all work stopped, everyone hurried to sit around the table. Father scattered
the grain, the children gathered them in their laps. The grain which was
gathered in greatest quantity was the one to be sowed in the spring, with
the expectation of a good harvest. Others when writing the Three Kings’
initials, carried bread and peas. Bread was eaten by everyone, peas were
scattered on the children.
Only two beliefs remain of the Three kings’ Feast Day, they were written
down by J.Balys:
1- On midnight of Epiphany, stare at the moon for an hour, then
wash for an hour and go to bed. When in bed, a white ghost will appear
and awaken the sleeper. Begin questioning the ghost and so you will find
out about your future.
2- On the night of Epiphany, find a spot where no one has walked
there. Take the Three Kings’ chalk, draw a circle around you, standing
in that spot, as wide as your arms can reach. Then call the Devil to request
for money, give me 9000, 900,90,9! The Devil will give, but do not take
it from his hands, let him drop the money into the circle, ask him "do
I owe you"? If he says "No", then pick up the money and go home.
The Three Kings’ processions, carvings and writings of their initials
on doors are still carried on today.