Friday, December 28, 2012

Joyous Customs Surrounding the Nativity

(ACNS) - It goes without saying that the Nativity of Our Lord is a joyous occasion and a time of great celebration. Part of this celebration includes three important feast days that follow immediately after Christmas Day. These are the Feast of Saint Stephen the Deacon and Protomartyr on the 26th, the Feast of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist on the 27th, and the Feast of the Holy Innocents on the 28th.

St. Stephen was the first martyr. He was both a martyr in will and in fact, being both willing to die if necessary for the Faith and actually doing so. He was stoned to death while Saul, the later Blessed Paul the Apostle who was then a great persecutor of Christians, looked on approvingly. The popular Christmas Carol "Good King Wenceslas" tells the story of a Bohemian ruler who braved the winter weather to carry food and supplies to a poor peasant on this day. This act to charity reminds us of the duty of Stephen in life as a Roman Deacon to tend to the needs of the poor. It is also no surprise that this feast day is of great importance to the Patriarchal See of St. Stephen, for it is its Patronal Feast. By custom, the Patriarch vests for solemn mass as far as the dalmatic, the garment of a Deacon, and then, standing before the altar, sings "Stephanus autem plenus gratia et fortitudine faciebat prodigia et signa magna in populo." (And Stephen full of grace and power worked great signs and miracles among the people.) The choir responds with "Thanks be to God," for there is indeed great thanks both for Blessed Stephen's ministry and his celestial patronage of the Patriarchal See.

On the Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, we celebrate the life and ministry of the only Apostle who was not martyred. The enemies of the faith tried to kill him, but without success. When they gave him wine that had been poisoned, he blessed the wine, drank it, and was not harmed. It is for this reason that we have a special blessing for wine this day and toast to the love of St. John. There are also recipes for mulling the wine before the toast.

The last of these three special feasts is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. These babes were murdered by Herod, who was jealous of Jesus and wanted Him dead. The infants died for our Lord, though they did not know this reason they were dying. In some countries, this day is somewhat like an April Fool's day in America and is full of pranks. Other customs include letting the youngest child of the family decide what to do that day, the meals, the entertainment, and so forth. The traditional Christmas carol "Coventry Carol" deals with the Holy Innocents.

The celebration of Christmas is not simply on one day. Even some of the popular Christmas carols we sing or hear played on the radio point to other days within the Christmas season. The three days following the Feast of the Nativity are of special importance and fittingly come with special customs to enjoy, celebrate, and learn from them.