Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. - Colossians 2:16-17
As we enter December, our thoughts turn towards Christmas and the celebration of God becoming man for us and for our salvation. We sing the joyous songs of the season (some of us began this in October!), put up pretty lights (Nov. 1 - really?) in remembrance of the Light of the World, and purchase and wrap gifts in remembrance of the greatest gift of all - God’s Son being born in a humble cattle shed. For 28 days we celebrate Advent, or “the coming”, but is there more than Dec. 25 to celebrate in the month of December? Indeed, there is!
On December 6th (or the eve thereof) many children in the low countries will leave their shoes by the hearth in hopes that St. Nicolas will stop by and fill them with toys and treats. Plates of cookies and beer (not milk!) will be left for “Jolly old St. Nicolas” on this, his feast day. Nicolas was a bishop in Myrsa, Asia Minor in the early 4th Century. He is credited with saving 3 young maidens (sisters) from a life of prostitution by tossing bags of gold through the window at night (which miraculously landed in stockings left to dry by the fireplace) and many other miracles. Historically he was one of the bishops present at the Council of Nicea (where he punched the heretic Arius in the nose), and is responsible for the homo ousias line in the Nicene Creed - “being of one (the same) substance with the Father”. There is much more to St. Nicolas than translated to our modern Santa Claus. It should be noted that St. Nick has an evil counterpart named Krumpas and on Krumpasnacht, the evening before St. Nicolas Eve, this hobgoblin visits the homes of the naughty children to beat them with a switch of holly. So you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout….well, you get the point of the naughty and nice list now.
A week later on Dec. 13 we celebrate a Nordic saint, Lucia (also called Lucinda or just plain Lucy). Her name is Latin for “Light” and so it is a festival of candles and lights and brightening the darkness. Wreaths with candles (lit) would be placed on the heads of the maidens of the household as they celebrated a feast of sweet cakes and ale. In Victorian times (before strings of ##$%@#!@ lights) this is when the Christmas tree would be brought in and the candles on it lit. This makes sense as after two weeks, even the most ever green tree is getting dry and flammable.
December 16 is an interesting day, especially in southeast asian countries. This is the time of Sojourn Day. Apparently, some scholar at some time figured it would take 8 days for a woman 9 months pregnant to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. In the Philippines, this festival of Joseph and Mary’s journey begins the holiday season. A procession would begin at the youngest adult family member’s house with a light appetizer and then the that family would move on to the next oldest family member’s home for another course, until the whole family arrived at the home of the grandmother or great-grandmother for the traditional desert of Babinka (oh, soo good, but so bad for the waistline). In many other countries some sort of “progressive dinner” takes place around this time of year in remembrance of the journey to Bethlehem with various re-enactments and foods along the way.
Of course, the big focus is on December 24 & 25 with the candlelight service Christmas Eve and the feasting and celebrations Christmas Day. Nothing brings a sense of nostalgia like singing “Silent Night” to the soft glow of candles. Our Christmas Eve service will take place at 8PM. But that’s just the start of the Christmas season - we still have 12 more days and 3 more festivals!
The day after Christmas is a double celebration. On the 26th we commemorate St. Stephen, the first Martyr (see Acts 6:8-8:1 for his story). We remember “the feast of Stephen” more from the carol Good King Wenceslaus than from any religious commemoration. In this carol the King of Bohemia (921 - assassinated 935), upon seeing a poor man gathering wood to warm himself, takes his squire and sets off with food and fuel to the poor man’s home. As it is chilly in Bohemia (western Czech Republic) in late December, the squire began to freeze on the journey. By walking in his master’s footprints, he was able to stay warm until they arrived at the home of the poor man “right beside the forest fence by St. Agnes’ fountain”. Today the feast of Stephen, who was a deacon in charge of food distribution to the poor before his martyrdom, is celebrated by bringing the Christmas feast leftovers to the poor in the community in certain parts of Eastern Europe.
December 26 is also a civic holiday known as “Boxing Day”. This has nothing to do with fisticuffs, but is a reversal day still celebrated in parts of Europe and Canada. On Boxing Day the servant becomes the master and the master becomes the servant for a day. Even in the armed forces, Generals take on the duties of Privates and Privates get access to the Officer’s Club. While a civic holiday with political origins, it is a good reminder of how at this time of year we celebrate Jesus, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be held on to, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
The final festival of December is on December 28th. This is the feast of the holy innocents and reminds us of the world’s animosity towards the newborn King of kings. On this day we remember King Herod’s slaughter of all male children under 2 years of age in the region around Bethlehem. Since the 1972 Roe vs. Wade decision, this is also the kick off for Sanctity of Life month which culminates with Sanctity of Life Sunday on Jan. 26. We remember how the world tried to stop Jesus from accomplishing the purpose for which He was born (to give His life in payment for our sins) and how through His resurrection we can “fear not, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is also a day to focus on the plight of immigrants and aliens as Joseph and Mary set off with baby Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.
I know many of us also have a celebration on Dec. 31 / Jan. 1 as we ring in the new year and the church celebrates the purification of Mary and the naming of Jesus, but we’ll deal with the new year in next month’s newsletter. I hope you will remember and celebrate some of these extra-Christmas holy days and join us on Dec. 24 as we celebrate the angels’ message that Christ is born. A very merry Christ’s mass to you all.
- Pastor Brian