Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Three Big December Feasts (that aren't Christmas!)

All of Advent is focused on preparing for the Christmas feast, and now we’re here! On the second of twelve days of celebration.

But the first three of these days following the Christ Mass are actually pretty special in their own rights: today is St. Stephen’s Day, the 27th is St. John’s Day, and the 28th is Holy Innocents.

St. Stephen was the first martyr of the church, and his death (and marvelous testimony just before his death) is recorded in the book of Acts. He was one of the first deacons, and as he died, he saw the Lord Jesus standing and awaiting him.

St. Stephen’s Day is also known as “Boxing Day” in the English world, after the tradition of packing up the remnants of the Christmas feast and delivering it to the poor. Variations of this tradition had servants bringing boxes to their employers’ homes and the employers filling them with good things. These days, many people take Boxing Day as an opportunity to go through their home and donate what they can to charity.

St. John was, of course, the beloved disciple of Jesus, writer of the fourth gospel, three epistles, and the book of Revelations, and was known as St. John the Divine (i.e., St. John the Theologian).

You can read here about one tradition for celebrating his day, by drinking a mulled wine known as “St. John’s Love” (scroll down for the recipe; it's near the end of the post). I’m looking forward to trying that this year!

The last of these three feasts, Holy Innocents, is, perhaps, the saddest. In it, we remember the young children slaughtered by a jealous King Herod, as he sought to destroy the infant Messiah he feared would supplant him. Though we ought always to be praying for those in danger and trouble throughout the world, this is a particularly good day to spend time in prayer for the persecuted. Perhaps this year, you can remember those in Syria, or in South Sudan.

Finally, here are prayers for each day:

A Collect for St. Stephen’s Day:
We give thee thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to thy Son Jesus Christ, who standeth at thy right hand; where he liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

A Collect for St. John’s Day:
Shed upon thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, the brightness of thy light; that we, being illumed by the teaching of thine apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that we may at length attain to the fullness of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Collect for the Holy Innocents’ Day:
We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(All collects from the Book of Common Prayer.)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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