The holiday of Three Kings Day or Dzien Trzech Króli (January 6) marks the end of the Christmas season in impressive style throughout Poland (though carolling continues, and even Christmas trees often stay up until February). A wholly Catholic holiday, Three Kings honours Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, the three wise men who visited Jesus at his birth. Celebrations range from small to grand but often include a parade (or several) welcoming the wise men, with plenty of carolling, costumed characters passing out candy, and children dressed in colours signifying Asia, Africa and Europe (the respective homelands of the wise men).
Like any proper Catholic holiday, mass is compulsory, and traditionally families leave church services on this day with a blessed piece of chalk, used to write the initials of the three kings - with crosses in-between each letter - on the front door or above the threshold of the home; the local priest also pays house calls this time of year to ensure that the ubiquitous 'K + M + B' appears where it should (for a small donation of course). This tradition is said to protect the family from sickness and misfortune for the year.
Fun is also had during the day’s feast when a Three Kings cake is served with either an almond or coin baked inside. Whoever is fortunate enough to land the surprise slice is considered king (or queen) for the day and lucky for the rest of the year. If your cake – which varies by region and can be anything from sponge to fruitcake – is decorated with a crown the lucky almond-eater gets the honour of wearing it. An additional reason to celebrate: In 2011 Parliament officially restored the date as a non-working national public holiday in Poland for the first time since it was cancelled by the communists 50 years earlier, so there’s no need to go work (or excuse for missing church)!