On this final day of the Christmas season, we come to a celebration that was recognized by the Church even before Christmas itself. It is the day tradition tells us the Magi reached the stable to visit the child after their journey following the star that guided them to Bethlehem. Seeing the child was their epiphany, and that is the name of this holyday/holiday, too: Epiphany.

In our home, we close the celebration of Christmas on Epiphany night with a simple ceremony at the front door, outside on the front porch. We will gather up all who are in attendance and we will each take turns writing with chalk on the lintel above the front door the numbers and letters and symbols of a traditional inscription. This year, it will read as follows: 20+C+M+B+18. These are the initials of each of the Three Kings (C for Caspar, M for Melchior, B for Balthasar), punctuated by crosses, blanketed on either side by the year. For me, the inscribing is always accompanied by a silent prayer that no one will be missing when we gather next to write the inscription again. Depending on the weather, the inscription may be there above the door for a month or it may be there all the year through. And though Christmas be gone, still the inscription reminds us of Christmas’s presence as we pass each day through that portal. The inscription is a magic charm of sorts, protecting the house and those who pass through that doorway, harboring the goodwill and spirit of Old Father Christmas.

And with that, these Twelve Days of Christmas are done. La Befana is back to her sweeping, sweeping Christmas away, too, and we return to ordinary time, back to the workaday world. Here’s a poem to help make that shift. It’s a song, actually, one I think of as a Christmas song, though there is nothing about it that specifically says it is… and so maybe it’s perfect for Epiphany and our subsequent return to ordinary time. And so I will leave you with that, ending our 12 day series with something to carry you off, off across the desert land.


by Jane Siberry

O it was a snowy night
The caravan traveling across the desert land
The stars were hanging heavy
In the absence of light
And you were there and I
And something in our hearts
Told us to keep on moving
Because there was something about that star
That Star…

How far is the nearest place to kneel?
How far is the nearest throne?
How far can you go with only a dream?
With only a hope?
You take the vision and you hold it steady
Right ahead of you
Across the ranges across the plains
The desert land the gaze of strangers
That is how… Hold It Steady

There was always someone who would
Take the children and keep them entertained
There was always someone who would
Lay down their work to play the children’s games
There was always someone
Who would know how things worked
They’d say… There. Where? Over there.

And now as we sit on the steps
At the side of the square
There are three wise men sitting in their chairs
If anyone wants to know
Which way any of us should go
They will hold they will contain
They will cup the refrain
Hold It Steady – Take The Vision
Hold It Steady
Right ahead of you right between the eyes. THAT is how.

O it was a snowy night and our caravan
Moved along through this yet unholy land
You were there and I was there
Two desert boys – we did not understand
We only knew that something grand
Was happening – that Star – that night.


Thank you, Jane Siberry, for allowing me to publish “Caravan” for you here today. You can hear the song––the version from her 1995 record “Maria”––here… but it was also on her 1997 live album “Child,” and that’s the version from which the lyrics above are taken. Image: A Christmas Creche made of cardboard and foil by artisans in Poland, a gift to us from our friend Walter Chruscinski.


11 thoughts on “20+C+M+B+18

  1. John, Jennifer and Krista says:

    Thank you.

  2. As usual, it has been a pleasure to spend Christmastide with you. We enjoy your posts and chat about your fun facts, your wonderful family, and your interesting tales of the days of Christmas as we start the day, or around the dinner table with friends throughout the season. Graham and I wish you and yours a wonderful 2018, full of laughter and cheer and art and craft. We look forward to more writing from Convivio, both old and new. Happy Epiphany and a peaceful new year.

    • John Cutrone says:

      Graham and Kathy, fellow printers, I thank you. I appreciate being part of your days in this roundabout way. Seth and I wish you the best for the new year, too! Happy Epiphany.

  3. Paula Marie Gourley says:

    Sweeping Stars.

  4. What a lovely custom to close the Christmas season, John. I’m going to add it to my own traditions, starting tonight. Thanks for sharing it!

    • John Cutrone says:

      Wonderful, Cora! We’ll be heading outside to write our inscription later tonight. We’ve just finished dinner after a campfire to warm us. We’ll be writing the inscription again at my family’s home tomorrow, where everyone is gathering for an Epiphany dinner.

  5. Cari Ferraro says:

    Ah John, ye have inspired me again. For some years I’ve read of this tradition and so finally yesterday dusk, I brought my chalk and step stool and householder and made on the lintel space an inscription of protection for our hearth and home. It’s a bit different than yours, altogether more paganish in symbol choice, but made in quite the same spirit, which I feel is ancient and universal. You’ve only to look up “lintel” to see some wonderful inscriptions. I’ll pop a photo of mine up on Instagram for you to see, or on my journal (doubtful, for today I have some spinning to do . . .)

    • John Cutrone says:

      Wonderful, Cari! I’m glad to hear it, and I look forward to seeing your inscription. I feel the traditions cross-pollinate each other and inform each other. I look at my job as Provider of Information… and then my hope is that readers will do with that what they will and find ways to incorporate these old ways into their contemporary lives. I have no doubt the Catholic tradition of the inscribed lintel, as I’ve provided it here, is in some ways inspired by older Pagan traditions. For all we know, your inscription may take us back to a purer form of the tradition. I failed to mention that the inscription is traditionally done with chalk that’s been blessed by the parish priest. Blessed chalk? How earthly is that?!?

  6. Jonas A McCaffery says:

    I finally got to reading Irving’s essays on Christmas, and it’s interesting that Christmas was banned for a while, and even more interesting, it was the fundamental Christians who banned it. It wasn’t until people like Irving who stood up and said, “Um, no, Christmas is fun.” I think those were his exact words.

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