The Three Kings Collection: children in the lead role of the charity fund-raiser of the year

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

Traditionally, the close of the Christmas holidays kicks off the largest and most successful fund-raiser in the country. The Three Kings Collection involves thousands of children taking to the streets in groups of three dressed as the Three Wise Men, singing carols and asking people to donate money to charity. The Three Kings Collection organized by Charita Czech Republic is the largest and most trusted charity event in the Czech Republic and one that reflects the true Christmas spirit. Jarmila Lomozová of Charita, Czech Republic came to the studio to talk about this annual highlight.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
“The collection is organized in such a way that you have three children, usually it is children, dressed up as the Three Wise Men, as the Three Kings from the East, go from house to house and they spread the good news about the birth of Baby Jesus, they sing carols, they wish people Happy New Year and ask for contributions. This is a unique collection with a 15-year-old tradition and it is the largest voluntary event of this kind in the Czech Republic because every year more than 50,000 carolers are involved in it.”

As you said a large number of them are children – do you feel that this helps to bring home the Christmas message at a time when the holiday has become highly commercialized?

“Definitely, yes, and children also learn that it is good to do something for others, because they have to devote some of their spare time to caroling, the collection takes place in the first two weeks of January so it is usually freezing cold outside, and so they learn that they have to sacrifice something to help others.”

How do you get volunteers? Do you go to schools and look for them there?

“We get them from schools and also parishes because Charita is a church organization so we ask parishes to help us and children from almost every parish in the Czech Republic go caroling.”

You yourself are involved. Tell me what is it like –how do people respond?

“Yes, yesterday it was Epiphany Day and I joined one of the groups. I was also dressed in a costume and we went caroling in Prague. Caroling in Prague is different from caroling in small villages where carolers go from house to house singing carols. In Prague we are in the streets caroling near the metro, near the supermarkets anywhere where you have a bigger crowd of people. We were singing to a guitar and the response was amazing, very positive. People would come to us of their own accord, we were just standing there and singing and they would walk up to us to donate money. Some would find they had no coins and would say I will go and get some change and come back and they really did. A mother with a handicapped child came and gave us money and even a homeless man gave us three crowns. It was really impressive how open people were and how much they wanted to show solidarity.”

Jarmila Lomozová, photo: archive of Jarmila Lomozová
In the country they go from house to house – I suppose people expect them and they would also know the children because they are locals?

“Yes, they look out for them and we even had cases when the children were not able to come for some reason and people called us up disappointed to ask what happened. So, yes in villages there are lists of households that the children need to visit. People expect the Three Kings, they want the Three Kings to come and there is also one nice custom that the three kings have chalks with them and they put a sign on the doorway –the abbreviation of the names of the Three Kings K + M+B (Kašpar, Melichar and Baltazar) and the year 2015. This is to bring happiness in the New Year. The chalks are blessed by the local bishop so we can say that the collection is not just about money but it has a spiritual dimension and people understand that. ”

And they are especially receptive to this kind of fund-raiser aren’t they –it being around Christmas and because of the character it has – because people are now quite cautious about handing over money in the street and prefer to use donor SMS messages or donate via bank accounts to charity.

“Yes, the problem is that there are so many registered charity collections these days – according to official numbers there are more than 300 of them so literally every day you can meet someone in the street collecting money for some purpose and it is difficult for these organizations to attract people’s attention and win their trust. But I dare to say that the Three Kings collection is different. It is the number one collection in the Czech Republic definitely because it has the longest tradition, it is the largest one and also it is organized by Charita which makes a difference because Charita is the largest provider of social services in the Czech Republic. People know Charita not only from the media and various fund-raisers but because Charita helps them. We reach out to more than 100,000 clients every year. Also during the floods we helped tens of thousands of households.”

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
This collection is also highly mediatized. Children dressed up as the Three Kings attract a lot of attention –and it all starts with a celebratory mass which in Prague is held in St. Vitus’ Cathedral is it not?

“Yes, the mass is not only in Prague. In every diocese the bishop serves a mass, blesses the chalks, blesses the carolers and that is the very beginning of the collection.”

And there is a procession of the Three Kings…

“Yes, in some places there is a procession with camels and people in costumes and so on. ”

As you said, you help a great many people. What is this particular collection used for? Does it differ in the different regions and can they choose what is most needed?

“In general we can say that the collection helps all the different groups of people who are in need. The physically-handicapped the elderly, single mothers with children and so on and where the money will be spent is always decided by the local coordinator – the parish and the diocese. Every year hundreds of projects are supported, not only Charita’s social services but also individual families who are in need. So the collection helps Charita run a great number of social services throughout the whole year. And also, I should mention the proceeds –last year we collected over 88 million Czech crowns which roughly is 3.5 million euro.”

And finally if people want to contribute and have not run into the Three Kings anywhere –how can they do so?

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
“The most popular way of donating money (aside from a direct contribution) is via a donor SMS –(DMS KOLEDA sent to 87 777) from which Charita receives thirty crowns, or just over a Euro. People send more than one million crowns in this manner every year. And of course the collection also has its own bank account to which you can contribute all year round. But the Three Kings only collect money for the first two weeks of January – that is until January 14th. ”