Christmas Chalk

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When our children were young, they loved using chalk to draw pretend, circuitous “routes” on which to ride their bikes. They drew hopscotch courts on which to toss their “potsies.” And when they made up stories, they drew all kinds of identifiable and unidentifiable images and designs–just for the creative fun of it!

…And so they often found sidewalk chalk among their stocking stuffers…

Yes! chalk is (was?) for child’s play.

Years ago, chalk was for teacher-play, too:).

This week I’m reminded that chalk still holds a special significance in family Christmas Season/New Year faith devotions.

In that context, chalk (often blessed white chalk) is used to “mark” a house–and a family!–as belonging to Christ.

Although there is no one absolutely definitive way that the marking must be done, the usual components of the notation are these:

  • Chalk notation is made above the inside doorway.
  • All 4 digits of the year are written, either as a unit, or divided into 2 and 2, with the following intervening letters.
  • The letters C, B, and M are written. They stand for either/both the Magi or the Latin expression that translates “Christ bless this house.”
  • The letters are connected with + symbols that are read as crosses or as the words “and” or “plus.”
  • One or two + symbols at the start/and stop of the notation stand for the  Cross of Christ.

In some parishes, the priest comes to bless the house and makes the chalk inscription that lasts (faded) till the next year’s blessing. When a priest is not available, the husband-father of the house, as the head of the domestic church, does the house blessing/chalk notation.

No matter how the notation is done (1 line; 2 lines;  “+2016 + C+B+M” or “20 C+B=M 16,” or any other variation), the important thing is to proclaim the house and the family as the Lord’s.

Although such a tradition was not part of my family’s faith formation, it was part of my husband’s. And although, in the past–regrettably– we did not adopt the practice for our house, this year being the Mercy Jubilee, it seemed like time to establish the traditional devotion.

So that’s what we did yesterday! (Another part of the tradition is to bless the house/chalk the doorway on Epiphany or “Little Christmas.” …Although the blessing can be done any time!)

Serious business marking our house for Christ, and yet, it occurs to me that as Our Heavenly Father watches us writing symbols, numbers, and letters above our doors, He sees holy child’s play in His Eyes. And He delights in honoring His children’s simple act of faith, hope, and love–

What do you think? Will you use chalk to mark–to proclaim–to yourself and others that you and your home belong to Christ?

p.s. Holy reason or not, the child in me still likes–correction: loves— playing with chalk!

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8 Responses to Christmas Chalk

  1. Love this: “as Our Heavenly Father watches us writing symbols, numbers, and letters above our doors, He sees holy child’s play in His Eyes.” Indeed, but also serious business. The custom you describe reminds me of the many picturesque things people did in the OT. They are metaphors even children can understand.

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  2. Irene Latham says:

    I am not familiar with this custom but I do love chalk! Every time we have company, we write their names on our sidewalk with chalk to welcome them. I feel kind of like the monks with their sand sculptures when the rain comes along and washes the walkway clean again. How lovely it was… how lovely that it’s gone. Thank you!

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    • bobbietaylor says:

      Thank you so much for taking time to read and to share about your beautiful chalk-greeting custom! How honored you make your guests feel…I love it! …Wish I were one of your company; I’ll content myself to be welcomed on your site. …You’ve piqued my curiosity; I need to research about the sand sculptures you wrote about, with the spiritual message “How lovely it was…how lovely that it’s gone.” I need detachment therapy. God bless you! Thank you!

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  3. hollymueller says:

    Wow! I’ve never heard of that tradition, but I love it! Like Violet, it reminds me, too, of Old Testament customs – bold markings of faith. Thanks for sharing this practice with us today! I’d love to see a picture!

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    • bobbietaylor says:

      Thank you for taking time to read and to reflect, connecting with the OT lintel marking. I thought about sharing a photo, but since our marking is not the most common way of doing the notation, I hesitated sharing. I’ll look for one online to share–even if it’s from last year; it will give you the idea. God bless you!!!

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  4. cvarsalona says:

    Bobbie, I like the way you changed your article on the tradition of Epiphany to fit the Spiritual Journey theme today and the way you tied childhood play with chalk to adult reverence for the coming of Christmas through the marking of your house with chalk. Traditions are so important. The way my family proclaims the season of Christ’s birth into this world is through our Christmas tree celebration. One ritual when decorating the tree is to adorn it with birds who bring the good news. Over the years we have collected a variety of birds (this year one with splendid sweeping feathers) to announce Christ’s coming. Each year we say, “and the birds bring the good news”. Thanks for bringing focus to how childlike rituals can place the focus on the spiritual aspects of Christmas.

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    • bobbietaylor says:

      Thank you for taking so much time to share your reflections. The teacher-writer in me is smiling; I appreciate your noticing the repurposing/writing for different audience:). Even more than that, I appreciate that you read the Catholic365 version. Thank you! I know how many responsibilities you have and I appreciate your taking so much time reading the posts. God bless you! …A very special thank you for sharing about your family’s Christmas tree celebration. Your children are blessed indeed for having experienced the good-news tradition! (Reminds me of P. Polacco’s “Uncle Vova’s Tree”). Thank you for your insightful last sentence, which gives me something to think about–which you always do: give me something deeper to think about! God bless you!

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