VILNIUS - Vilnius' beloved Gates of Dawn, home to a painting of the Virgin Mary, is already a captivating destination for tourists and locals alike. But on Jan. 6 the site will take on an even more special significance as the starting point of a procession marking the Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, when biblical tradition holds that the Three Wise Men journeyed to Bethlehem from the east to bring gifts to the Christ child.
This re-enactment of the procession of the three Magi will begin at 4:30 p.m. near the Gates of Dawn's portal and pass through Town Hall Square, finishing at Cathedral Square by 5 p.m.
The Magi procession is carried out under the direction of the Old Town Theater. Veteran actor Leonas Ciunis has played a king in the procession each year since the event started nine years ago.
"It's a sacrificial ceremony without words spoken 's only music 's and we are going and moving to the music with some visuals," Ciunis said.
To make the kings look taller and more distinguished, the actors set up large, wooden stands on their shoulders, conceal them with cloth, and a place a large mask on top as the face.
The 10-foot-tall kings are accompanied on their walk by shepherds and farm animals, and all are led by an angel carrying a candle.
"The crowd goes crazy, and for the children it's a very exciting view," Ciunis said.
Although in the biblical story the kings had a star to guide them, the kings in the Vilnius procession will have to navigate by peering through small eye-holes.
Despite these limitations, the crowd cheers as they make their attempts at waving to the onlookers.
Much of the acting is done when the procession arrives at its destination, in front of the Christmas tree in Cathedral Square.
Three angels play trumpets and doors swing open to reveal Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus on a decorative stage.
At the end of the event, fireworks boom in the sky and children are invited to approach the kings and shake hands.
Ciunis said he remembers last year when the manger ceremony was over, he tried to take off his mask without knowing the Cathedral's head bishop was standing right next to him.
"Of course, Christmas wasn't over so I quickly said to him 'Merry Christmas!' and he smiled and shook hands with me. He's a very simple man and I can make a decision that the Church is very interested in this performance," he said.
Old Town Theater Director Laima Trainavi-ciene said she hopes the procession will also draw people from all different religious and ethnic backgrounds.
"Vilnius is a multicultural city; various nationalities could emerge from all the narrow streets into the central procession and move altogether towards Cathedral Square," Trainaviciene said.
Three Kings Day procession
Jan. 6, 4:30 p.m.
Path: The Gates of Dawn, Ausros Vartai, Didzioji, Town Hall Square, Pilies, Cathedral Square