Tia, Miriam, Emanuel, and Josias (left to right) from the St. Lorenz Catholic Parish in Kempten, Diocese of Augsburg, Germany, December 2023. / Credit: Nicolas Schnall/Kindermissionswerk
Frankfurt, Germany, Dec 31, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).
For over half a century, every year in Germany — as well as in Switzerland and Austria — hundreds of thousands of children go from door to door dressed as the three Wise Men to bring the blessing of Christ around the turn of the year.
Singing Christmas carols, the “Sternsinger” (the “Star Singers”) brighten up the streets of towns and villages with their pretty voices and raise funds for children in need around the world.
“Carol singing is an ancient custom that dates to the Middle Ages,” explained Robert Baumann, press and public relations officer for the children’s missionary organization “Die Sternsinger,” which reenacts the tradition each year in Germany.
Father Dirk Bingener, president of the Children’s Missionary Society “Die Sternsinger,” Bishop Bertram Meier, and the delegation of the Star Singers, Germany, December 2023. Credit: Julian Schmidt / Kindermissionswerk/ Bistum Augsburg
In memory of the Epiphany, “dressed as kings, boys walked through the streets and played the procession to the manger,” Baumann told CNA.
The Kindermissionswerk, a Catholic aid organization that supports children in need worldwide, along with the Star Singers began to reenact the old custom beginning in 1959, and then in 1961, the Federation of German Catholic Youth joined in support. The initiative took the motto “Children Help Children,” since it had a charitable dimension, with donations sent to children in need. Approximately 300,000 children and young people have taken part in the campaign every year in Germany over the decades, Baumann said.
A way to evangelize
The young carol singers, crowned and wearing kingly outfits, bring God’s blessing into homes. Equipped with white chalk, or stickers, they inscribe on the door lintels the letters C+M+B, which stand for the Latin “Christus mansionem benedicat” (“Christ bless this house”), framing the letters with the numbers of the new year — now 2024.
According to certain traditions, the letters “CMB” also designate the names of the three Wise Men: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
Children blessing the houses in Germany, December 2022/January 2023. Credit: Benne Ochs/Kindermissionswerk
The children who participate “are ambassadors for solidarity and charity,” Baumann explained. “The carol singers proclaim the good news of the birth of Jesus and bring the blessing — ‘Christus mansionem benedicat’ — and the message of the Gospel to all people, even those of other denominations or other faiths, as well as to people who have not been baptized or who otherwise have no contact with the Catholic Church,” he added.
According to Baumann, “the singing is a young and lively form of church that goes out to the people.”
An act of charity
Collecting donations for disadvantaged and children in need all over the world is an important part of the event.
“Today, this carol singing is considered the world‘s largest solidarity campaign by children for children,” Baumann explained. “Since the start, the carol singers have collected around 1.31 billion euros to support projects for children in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Oceania, and Eastern Europe.”
This year, the campaign officially started on Dec. 29 in Kempten (Allgäu) in the Diocese of Augsburg. Each year it begins in a different diocese across Germany.
“Preparations are currently underway in the communities and in the carol singing groups, and we are once again seeing a very great deal of commitment there,” Baumann told CNA.
The motto of this year’s event is “Together for Our Planet — In Amazonia and Worldwide.” The Star Singers will “emphasize the importance of protecting the environment and cultures worldwide” and take donations for Amazonian children.
Children blessing the houses in Germany, December 2022/January 2023. Credit: Annette Zoepf/Kindermissionswerk
The Star Singers received support from many entities, including the federal president and federal chancellor of Germany, who have been receiving carol singing groups for 40 years, as well as Pope Francis himself. For several years now, the pontiff blesses the carol singers at the New Year’s Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The fame and reputation of these little missionaries goes far beyond their villages.
In 2004, the Star Singers were honored with the Westphalian Peace Prize in Münster, and in 2015 they were included in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage, Baumann told CNA.
In Switzerland, too
In Switzerland this tradition lives on as well. More than 10,000 Star Singers are committed to bringing Christ’s blessing to their fellow citizens.
On Dec. 19, they visited the federal Parliament in Berne, with delegations from the three regions of the country: German, French, and Ticino, as reported on their website.
Dressed as shepherds and the three Wise Men, the Swiss children, just like their German neighbors, will once again this year continue the tradition.
“Many children don’t have the same opportunities as we do. They go hungry or can’t learn a trade. I love being a Star Singer, so I can help these children,” a child named Louis, who wished to be a small witness of God’s love, said on the website.
Ines, Sina, Titus, and Nils (left to right) from the parish of St. Achatius in Stukenbrock-Senne, Germany, December 2023, will celebrate the New Year’s Day service with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica. Credit: Sarah Kaiser/BDKJ Paderborn
On Jan. 1, 2024, some of the Star Singers will participate in the New Year’s Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Vatican.