by Shonnie Scarola
used by permission from "Christian Customs, Folklore, Legends and Feast Days of the Christmas Season"
In earlier times, the twelve holy nights between Christmas and Epiphany were called "Smoke Nights" because the people went through their houses and barns burning incense, blessing their homesteads.
In the Middle Ages, it was customary to bless homes with newly blessed Epiphany water. Holy water was sprinkled in each room. The father would lead the procession with a shovel of charcoal on which he burned incense, the oldest son had a bowl of holy water. The rest of the family followed along saying the rosary and singing hymns.
While the father and oldest son were incensing and blessing the house, the youngest child carried a plate of chalk. The chalk had been blessed with a special blessing after morning Mass. The father took the blessed chalk and wrote over every room that led from the house into the open: AD 19+C+M+B+98 which stands for "Amno Domini 1955 -- Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar" and means "the three Holy Kings, Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar, in the year of Our Lord, 1998" or whatever the year may be, are protecting this house against all evil spirits.
This tradition of blessing the doorways (with blessed chalk) symbolizes the family's commitment to welcome Christ into their homes on a daily basis throughout the year.