CAMDEN, N.J. – At St. Anthony of Padua Parish here, on Epiphany weekend,John Coughlin,Jud Weiksnar and their deacon Tito Miranda, blessed 66 houses with the traditional “20+C+M+B+06” inscription in chalk on their front doors. The inscription contains the year plus the first letter of the names of the celebrated Three Kings of the Epiphany.
The tradition started ages ago when, on the evening before the arrival of “Three Kings,” the 12th day of Christmas, there would be prayers, blessed dried herbs would be burnt and the scent would fill the house. Doorways would be sprinkled with holy water, and the father of the house would write with chalk C+M+B and the year above the house and barn door and say “CMB, protect us again this year from the dangers of fire and water.” C+M+B has traditionally been translated as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, however according to the Church, the initials stand for “Christus Mansionem Benedictat” (Christ bless this home).
In modern day Camden, the inscription really has meaning. Many of the parishioners of St. Anthony’s sign up a week before the event. While most of the people were from Cramer Hill, and other parts of Camden and nearby Pennsauken, people also came from upscale suburbs such as Cherry Hill, Maple Shade and Deptford, N.J.
In an interesting twist, while John and Jud were blessing a home a few blocks from the church, a person asked them to bless their neighbor’s house across the street. Although she was a fellow parishioner, she had not heard about the blessing, and she was not home.
The friars put the chalk marking above the door, blessed it with holy water, and drove on to the next block. When she got home and saw the writing above her door, she thought it was graffiti from drug dealers. She was shocked at their audacity by coming up on her front porch. Later, she found the calling card the friars had left and was relieved that the writing was the work of friars and not drug dealers!