The 12 days of Christmas ends on the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, which marks the day the magi visited the baby Jesus. Father William "Jud" Weiksnar, OFM, and a small team from SS. Columba-Brigid Parish on Buffalo's West Side celebrate the day with a European tradition of visiting and blessing houses of their parishioners.
On Jan. 4, the three kings were actually two kings and two queens as Father Weiksnar was joined by Deacon Jerry Hodson, his wife Eileen, and SS. Columba-Brigid pastoral associate Paula Hunt. Armed with a list of 33 homes, holy water and chalk, the team would approach each house, mark it with chalk and say a prayer before sprinkling holy water on the front door. The doors are marked 20+C+M+B+20, which means in the year 2020 Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the three kings, have visited this house. It also stands for "Christus mansionem benedicat," which translates to "may God bless this house."
"We like to invite (the families) to be a part of it, especially if there are children there, to have them write maybe the letters, the C, the M or the B. And have the adults in the household also participate by maybe writing the 20 for 2020. I think they like being a part of it too. It's a family-oriented devotion. I think most parishioners really enjoy it. And they enjoy seeing their deacon or their pastor come to visit their house too," explained Father Weiksnar.
Sometimes the families invite them in for hot chocolate or coffee.
On Jan. 4, the team ran into a parishioner on the street, who wasn't on the list, but gave his address and it was added.
"Sometimes somebody who is on the list will say, 'Could you go bless my neighbor's house. They're having a really difficult year.' So we'll do that and we meet people that way," Father Weiksnar said.
Ordained this past May, Deacon Hodson gets excited whenever he has the opportunity to bless people. "I blessed my daughter this morning. She's returning to med school. But, this is my first time blessing people in their homes," he said.
He and Eileen were introduced to the practice of the Three Kings unknowingly several years ago while visiting the Czech Republic.
"We stayed at a big church with a monastery," Deacon Hodson recalled. "As we walked in all of the doorposts had the Roman numerals on it. We had no idea what it was. We had never heard of that. We're kind of putting the two together."
"I was very excited about it," Eileen Hodson added. "We have a Polish friend who does this tradition. Every time we go to her house, she has her door marked. She has explained the tradition to us in the past. I think at one time we had a priest at St. Greg's (in Williamsville) who talked about this and had given us each a little piece of chalk to take home." She is eager to join her husband in his ministry. "Whatever he's doing, I try to jump on board," she said.
To further drive their purpose, the team wore gold crowns purchased from Party City. When Father Weiksnar heard a siren, he wondered if there was a report of "three strange people walking and trying to enter houses."
Maria Dijols asked for her house to be blessed to protect it from the dangers of her East Side neighborhood. "There's so much violence," she said. "We want to protect the house, protect the family."
The tradition of marking and blessing houses has its origins in Eastern Europe beginning centuries ago. The day holds a special place in Latin American and Spanish households.
Father Weiksnar learned of it during his time in Camden, N.J. He has brought blessings, not only to the houses surrounding his parish, but as far away as West Seneca. A Three Kings party followed the 4 p.m. Mass at SS. Columba-Brigid.