Following from my post, Christmas Doesn’t End After Dinner: Boxing Day & The 27th, which I put up the other day, I would like to follow with some of the days proceeding St. Stephen and St. John.
These are feast days which I am sure (as was noted in the comments on the last article) only High-Church varieties of Anglicans, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox would observe, but all the same it is interesting to see their placement within the calendar.
The day following St. John the Evangelist is a feast which I had little knowledge of or took much note of until recent years. On the 28th of December is recognized and celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
From Matthew 2, ‘ (16) Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under,
according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. (17) Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, (18) In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.‘
According, again, to a website I strongly recommend this was a day in which children held an important position within the household–‘This is a day when children should have the preeminence in family life, leading the family prayers, making decisions about family activities for the day, having the place of honor at meals, and so forth.’ Much better, they note, than another tradition which would have the children beaten to remind them and, I suppose, ‘teach them’ of the children who died by Herod’s hand.
One of the things I find most interesting about this day and this season is that some place the Holy Innocents as the first Christian Martyrs, ahead of St. Stephen, whose feast day precedes the Innocents by two days.
On December 29th the life and witness of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury is recognized. Much can be read about his life, but I find this oft-quoted excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s Murder In The Cathedral helpful,
Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord’s Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.
Until the new year…