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Chalking the Door

Considers the festival of Epiphany

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To consider the tradition of ‘chalking the door’ during the festival of Epiphany.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a blackboard and a piece of chalk. You will use these during the assembly to write 20 + C + M + B + 17 and the words ‘Christus mansionem benedicat’, which mean ‘May Christ bless this house’.


  1. Ask the children whether they had any visitors to their homes over Christmas. Ask how they could welcome people who visited their homes.

    Listen to a range of suggestions.

  2. Ask the children to imagine that some very special guests were coming to visit, such as the Queen, Prince William or the Prime Minister. What preparations would be made? Ask how they would feel if, when these guests arrived, someone took them straight to the untidy garden shed, which was dirty and full of spiders!

  3. Explain that it was a bit like this for the royal visitors who went to find a new king in Bethlehem many years ago. Remind the children of the Christmas story – the birth of Jesus in the stable and the visit from the shepherds. Explain that, some time after the birth of Jesus, some very important visitors came looking for the baby. The Bible tells us that these were three well-known and respected wise men from the East, who followed a star as they searched for the baby. They must have been very wealthy men because they took expensive gifts to give to the new king. They had first gone to the palace in Jerusalem because that is where they expected a king to be born. At the palace, they would have been wined and dined by King Herod, but they found no baby prince there. They also discovered later that, although they had received a grand welcome, Herod was actually plotting to harm the baby.

  4. Some people think that Mary and Joseph moved to stay in someone’s house soon after baby Jesus was born. However, whether they continued to stay in the stable or a room doesn’t really matter – the place they stayed would certainly have been very different to Herod’s palace! Ask the children to imagine what it would have been like for the wise men to leave the beauty of the palace and turn up at a stable or house in which Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying. They must have been very surprised that a king was living in such a place!

  5. Ask the children to imagine the three wise men knocking on the door. Maybe it was Joseph who opened the door, welcomed them inside and showed them to where baby Jesus was sleeping. Imagine them kneeling down on the floor to give their gifts to the baby.

  6. Explain that 6 January is known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany. It celebrates the visit of the wise men to baby Jesus. In many countries, Christian people perform a symbolic act to remember the visit of the wise men. One way in which they do this is by ‘chalking the door’.

  7. Explain that, this year, some Christian people will write 20 + C + M + B + 17 in chalk above the door of their house.

  8. Use the blackboard and chalk to write 20 + C + M + B + 17’.

    Ask the children if they can guess what this writing might mean.
    Explain that the chalked numbers denote the year: 2017.

    The letters have two meanings.
    - They are the initials of the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
    - They also form an abbreviation of the Latin words, ‘Christus mansionem benedicat’.

    Ask the children if they can guess what these Latin words mean.

    Explain that they mean ‘May Christ bless this house’.

  9. This ‘Epiphany house blessing’ is an invitation by the homeowners to God. It means ‘Please come and join our family in our home. Please watch over us and all who come in and go from this house, and please provide for us.’

Time for reflection

Would you like to write 20 + C + M + B + 17 above your front door?

Imagine if we were to write this above the school door.

What difference might it make to the life of our school?

Dear God,
Thank you that you want to share our lives with us.
We thank you that you are happy to live in the simplest of homes.
Please watch over and bless our families, our school and all who visit us.

Publication date: January 2017   (Vol.19 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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