The 12 days of Christmas – Saint Stephen the first Martyr

Most of the Western world has probably heard the song the 12 days of Christmas, with it’s increasing numbers of gifts (and birds). While Europeans may recall that the 12 days come after Christmas, most USAnians have forgotten, and instead many events use 12 days leading up to Christmas as a celebration, while also buying Advent calendars and calling it Christmastide or Yuletide.
However, the original 12 days come with or after Christmas day aka The Feast of the Nativity. Our of curiosity I searched to understand what the 12 days of Christmas were about, and also what saints or events were associated with them. Of course, this changed depending upon Western or Eastern churches, and Catholic vs Protestant vs Evangelical (As some protestant churches observes the 12 days with the same saints while Evangelicals do not recognize the 12 days).
for me, I’m going to treat Christmas as the 1st day, and each day after going forward. While most people know about Christmas day and know what it is about, the 2nd day of Christmas is not as well known to some people. This day is dedicated to Saint Stephen or in Greek Stephanos. He is the first martyr or even a proto martyr. His story is recounted in the bible in the Book of Acts. Stephen was believed to have been a Greek speaking Hebrew, and an early convert, and he was preaching the gospel of Jesus and sharing it, and this was angering the local Jewish community in Israel. So on a trumped up charge he was brought before the Sanhedrin for charges of Blasphemy. He repudiated their accusations, using logic and eloquence that the Sanhedrin could disagree with. However in the end he started saying things about the Torah and Jesus which so angered the Sanhedrin and the gathered people to watch that they seized stones and stoned Stephen to death. Some even figure that part of their ire came from his Greek affiliation, as non Greek Jews rejected the Greek ones. Part of this crowd was also allegedly Saul who would later become Paul the Apostle after his Damascus experience. The early church would declare Stephen a saint, and his feast day was put on December 26. Thus if you here Christmas hymns reference “On the feast of Stephen” this is the day they are referring to.
One interesting note to me is that Stephen is considered the first Red Martyr. A red martyr is a Christian who was murdered for their faith. There are other types of martyrs by color, namely the White Marty and the Green or Blue Martyr. While all martyrs are people who suffered for their faith, only the red martyr was murdered for it. A white martyr is some who dies because of great faith and dedication to ascetism, such as the desert hermits of Egypt and North Africa, who went to live our in the wilderness, Because of their dedication, they died but their faith made them into martyrs but without having been murdered for it.
Green or Blue martyrs are people who engaged in a denial of desires, engaging in fasting and penitent labors, but without the full withdrawal from life of extreme ascetism.

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