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12 days of Christmas – Epiphany or Three Kings Day (Or the 13th day of Christmas)

January 6 marks Epiphany or Three Kings Day. in some parts of Christianity this is the day when gift giving is done, as it is the three kings who bring presents to good children, as they brought presents of Gold, Myrrh, and Frankincense to newly born Christ.
In some lines of Christianity, this day marks the end of Christmastide, and is the day when people will put away their Christmas decorations. Others may keep the decoration up until Candlemas on February 2. Epiphany also marks the beginning of Carnevale season. This is the period building up to Lent and then Easter. The last day of Carnevale is always a Tuesday, thus the name Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.
While many people are familiar with the Fasting period during the 40 days of Lent, less remembered is that the period of Advent leading up to Christmas was also a shorter period of fasting as well. That is part of the reason why the 12 days was associated with such feasting, after a 24 day fast. But that is also why the period from Christmas to Lent was also filled with feasting and celebrating for all. Besides the obvious lack of farm work that could be done, and the many holy days about the story of the childhood of Jesus, from his birth, to his circumcision and naming, to his presentation at the Temple while Mary was being purified after having given birth, to the story leading up to Jesus teaching, and traveling and his 40 days of resisting the temptations of Satan until his crucifixion, with a short period of feasting surrounded by rather long period of serious fasting.
Many cultures celebrate Epiphany with special sweet breads or “cake” where an item is hidden inside the cake and whoever finds it is considered lucky. This item may be a simple bean, a coin, or now days a plastic baby that is hidden by the baker or the purchaser for people to find. In addition to being lucky, the finder often now has to throw the party on the next Epiphany in the following year.
There is also a great debate over what exactly the kings of wisemen who came were and what they represented. While their names are generally agreed upon, their origins are less known, and in one example they are called Magi, which in Greek refers to the Persian priest of Zoroastian religion, who were educated and often thought to watch closely the night sky and understand the stars, as specially capable astrologer priest. That is also why they found the Christ child by following a star, as their role as astrologers allowed them use that information to predict and find the Christ child.
Of course, they are also now preserved in the stars as well. While commonly known as Orion’s belt, the three stars are also identified with the Three Magi.
Another custom that is common with Epiphany day is called Chalking the door. The top of the front door to the home is chalked with the initials of the Three Magi, separated by crosses, and with the numbers of the year at opposite ends. for this year it would look like this
20+C+B+M+23
this is said to blessing the home, protect it from harm, and bring prosperity and plenty to the inhabitants.
As referenced in the title, this day is also a question in the order. Some traditions of Christianity start the 12 days on Christmas day, Making January 5, the last day. Others count from December 26, Making January 6 the 12 day. So, sometimes this day is the 12th day, and yet in other observances, this day is 13th day, separate from the 12 days, but still part of the ongoing Christmastide which won’t end for many more days. It seems that the English Twelfth Night was actually a way of saying Epiphany Eve, that is the night before the 12th day, which was Epiphany.

The 12 days of Christmas January 5, Pick a Saint – Saint Phosterios

Another day with congregation recognizing local saints, today out of the list of saints I chose Saint Phosterios. Another pre-organized church saint, this saint was a Hermit. As his name implies (Phosterios indicates something that gives off light, but also radiance and splendor) this hermit saint so dedicated himself to Christianity that it was said he gave off radiance from being so close to the holy spirit. He also dedicated himself to helping the poor and that he made his home on the top of a mountain, and his food was given to him by angels, As his name and words of his healing miracles spread, people came to him, and he would distribute loaves of bread that an angel gave to him so that none went hungry. Eventually so many people gathered around him, that an abby was built to house them all, as they chose to adapt his lifestyle and live near him.

On a blog dedicated to Orthodox Christianity, a great story about the dedication of Saint Phosterios describing him as shining with the holy spirit, because he had purified himself with so much hardship, and that when alone an angel would bring him bread, but when he had guests, or guests coming, extra bread would always be present for when the guests arrived. When he had many followers seeking to live by his example, and they all needed food, he put aside his ascetism and took to teaching them how to care for themselves and others, working and living by his own hand. When he was called to participate in a synod to discuss matters of faith, his own grace came through as eloquence, and so many who had adhered to heresy saw their folly and embraced orthodoxy that he and others lived by. While he achieved many miracles while alive, after his passing, many more miracles were placed at his influence, which is why he was sainted. Unfortunately there aren’t any images of him to share, but being a very mystical saint, with a great name referencing light, and that he was thought to shine with the light of the Holy Spirit,

The 12 days of Christmas – Pick a Saint – January 4 Saint Hermes the Exorcist

The last two days before Epiphany do not have any specific saints given to them that are assigned to them in line with the nativity. I am not sure why. Instead, these days seem to have local saints that are popular who will be observed. I couldn’t find any information regarding which specific saints are used, so I went searching for saints associated with January 4 and 5, and I found some interesting saints given feast days on those days.
For January 4, I came across Saint Hermes of Moesia also known as St Hermes the Exorcist. There are a few other saint Hermes that are recognized by the Catholic or Orthodox church, but none of them had a feast day on January 4. There are no images of him, and he was recognized as a saint before the churches were organized. I found on one website that an image commonly used for him is that of a man casting a devil out of another man or a child. The only information about him was that he died in Italy, and that he was an exorcist. His name “Of Moesia” refers to the old Roman name for an area in what is now Serbia, South of the Danube. While what writings I could find about him say he was born in Italy, his name “Of Moesia” tells me that probably wasn’t the case, or maybe he was born there, but his family from Moesia originally, and he continued to be identified by that through his life, until his death in 300 AD. He was allegedly killed for his faith, and is thus a martyr.
The main things that interest me is that he was an exorcist. Of all the information that was kept, this one pops out to me, as well as his name. Hermes. Apparently Christianity couldn’t keep the god of messengers down. and that one of his namesakes would be an exorcist of the church in the early days, thus showing he had the gift of the spirit to cast out unclean spirits at the very least, and this tells me that there is something mystical about this saint.
After some more searching, I found his name included in a Litany of Saints, St Hermes of Moesia (also known as St Hermes the Exorcist) Pray for us. As far as I can tell this Litany with the names of saints known as exorcists was specifically composed as a litany to aid in casting out evil spirits.

The 12 days of Christmas – Jan 3 The Holy Name of Jesus

The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is in Catholic tradition, currently observed on January 3rd by those who chose to celebrate it. Originally, it was part of the January 1 observation as part of the Octave of Christmas, which as Jesus would have also been circumcized and official received his name at the same time. However with Vatican II, and the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary made on January 1, this feast in the Catholic church was moved to January 3, mainly as an alternative although certain churches and groups within the church may observe it primarily. One such group is the Jesuits, who always recognized the Holy Name of Jesus on January 3.
The image I included in this post refers specifically to how the Holy Name is presented. That logo is the symbol of the Holy Name, and it has been used periodically in Holy Name reverence, from chaplet, to Altars dedicated to the Holy Name.
Devotion to the Holy name is found in the Bible in the books of Acts and Philippians. The monogram IHS comes from the Greek writing of Jesus, but shortened, and later was thought to be an acronym for a Latin phrase Iesus Hominum Salvator. Various Christians throughout the ages have promoted the idea of devotion to the Holy Name until it became recognized in the 15th Century, and various monastic orders were given permission to observe a day to the Holy Name. This eventually became electing a feast day for the whole of the church. This also happened in Eastern Christianity and a short prayer known as the Jesus Prayer also focuses on the use of the Holy Name as a focal point. This focus also extended to Mary as well, and that was given a Feast Day option on September 12.
Some people write this monogram IHS with a cross on either side on a piece of paper and whatever is written on it is something that is being prayed over and aid is sought in resolving it. The Holy Name is also given various powers from being able to cast out evil, to make a baptism, performing any miracle, and protecting from harm. An interpretation of the scripture form the Gospel of John that reads “Ask anything of the Father in my name, and he will give it to you.” One could write the monogram on a slip of paper, make a request, and that could be all of the petition that you need to achieve your goal.

The 12 days of Christmas – Jan 2 St Basil the Great

St Basil the Great has his feast day on January 2. He is one of the Fathers of the Church, and recognized as one of a group of three known as the Cappadocian Fathers, three saints whose contribution to Christianity played a major role who all came from Cappadocia aka Modern Day Turkey.
Basil is great for several reasons.
1) He was one of the first to established a communal monastic rule for Christians choosing that life. When Basil was first learning and practicing Christianity, he sought out ascetic practice, giving up his wealth (he came from a wealthy family) aiding the poor and helpless, and going into solitude periodically. During his time with an anchorite, an ascetic mystic devoted to extreme solitude, Basil realized that this kind of monastic ascetism didn’t appeal to him. This led him to develop his own, where people lived communally, This monastic rule is still popular in Eastern Christianity and his writings about this are still popular with Orthodox groups to this day.
2) He supported the Nicene creed. His support, which came about from a change of stance during the debate over an interpretation about Jesus the Christ, caused him to support the Nicene creed and it’s interpretation over the divinity and humanity of Jesus. Not something really important to most people, but very significant to most people.
3) He was influential in clarifying the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the Three in One. This was part of the Nicene Creed which established this and had loyal Christians reciting the creed for all of time, or at least until the Reformation in Europe.
In some countries, a sweet bread is made which has a coin put into it. This bread is given as gifts on St Basil’s Day. It is said whoever finds the coin will have good luck the rest of the year. A story behind this says that it came about because St Basil wanted to distribute money to the poor, but have it be a surprise. So he found some bakers who made sweet bread which he had a coin hidden in, and gave this to the people of NeoCeasarea.
There are also numerous relics of St Basil throughout the world. The most famous one being his head, which is kept at the monastery of Great Lavra on Mount Athos in Greece. It is also said the mythical sword Durandal, which was wielded by the mythical knight Roland, had some of Basil’s blood touch it, which is what made the sword so powerful.

The 12 days of Christmas – The Solemnity of Mary and the Naming of Jesus, The Octave of Christmas

January 1 is the next of our twelve days and depending upon which branch of Christendom you are in, the feast associated with this day will change.
In the Catholic church, January 1st is dedicated to the Maternity of the Virgin Mary, a recognition of her carrying the Christ until he was born, and her special role. While not originally celebrated everywhere, it was first made into a festival for the Diocese of Portugal and Portuguese colonies. The image above is a of a famous statue dedicated to the Maternity of the Virgin Mary located in the Basilica of St Augustine in Rome. People have been coming to this statue since it was installed and making prayers and leaving devotions to Mary for aid in having safe deliveries and healthy babies, with people often returning and leaving images of smiling health babies as proof of the holy intercession of Mary.
During Vatican II, the church would formalize January 1 as the Solemnity of Mary and making it official for all Catholics everywhere as her feast day.
In the Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, and Lutheran churches, January first is dedicated to the Naming of Jesus (and thus his circumcision as well). In the past, a Jewish boy wouldn’t receive his name until he was circumcised, usually eight days after being born. As January 1 is 8 days from Christmas, this would be the time that Jesus would have been circumcised and named, and so other churches recognize this on January 1st instead

What makes this even special is that it is seen as the the first time the blood of Christ was shed, which initiated the beginning of the Jesus’ role as the Savior and with his naming, identifying him as the Son of God. While Jesus was still and infant, the circumcision and his naming marked the beginning of this.
The third aspect of this date is what is called the Octave. While I had talked about this some with the Holy Innocents, January 1, being 8 days from Christmas, is considered the Octave of the Nativity, and thus continues on the Holiness of the birth of Jesus the Christ. The octave of a feast is in one sense considered a continuation of that feast especially Christmas or Easter. While the concept was actually mostly thrown out during Vatican II, the idea persists with some Christians and they recognize it, as it kind of repeats the holiness of the feast. This is tied into certain things within some churches. For one Sunday or the Lord’s day is seen as the Octave as after 8 days, the week always returns to Sunday and thus to Christians as the day of going to church and focusing on Christianity. As it also tied into the circumcision story, and thus the first child baptism, so it is that many baptismal fonts are usually octagonally shaped for that reason.
The use of octaves began under Constantine, and at first was used to celebrate the building of a church. Later the holiest of feasts would be recognized with an Octave day, such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas, and later certain major saints would received Octave feasts, as a follow up to their initial feast day. In most traditions only one octave was observed, but as the feast of Holy Innocents shows, that day could influence the medieval life for the whole year, and thus the other holy days might also be valued in that way as well, with the day of Christmas being given special recognition for the rest of the new year, and perhaps Pentecost and Epiphany as well.
I had originally encountered this octave in a different way, in relation to candle work. While I had long learned of Novenas which are done for nine days, the Octavo was presented also as an option, which at the time, felt odd to me. When I encountered the Octave here in relation to Christmas and other Christian feasts, I see how it ties in, and how some people would see working for 8 days with candle work or other spells as an effective means as it represents the week coming full circle and in a sense, Ending with the beginning. While a 7 day working would only take up one week, and a 9 day working would exceed beyond it, the 8 day is a kind of equilibrium

The 12 days of Christmas – St Sylvester

December 31, commonly known in the USA as New Year’s Eve, is the feast day of Saint Sylvester, also known as Pope Sylvester. His name is so part of the day that when New Years was moved from April under the Julian calendar to December/January with the Gregorian Calendar, that in many countries the name for New Year’s Eve is based upon his name Silvestris or some variant thereof.
Not much is known of Pope Sylvester, but he was Pope during a a major period for the church, such as the establishment of the Nicene Creed which is still recited throughout most of Christiandom to this day. Mythical claims of his life also exist, with the greatest myth being an argument between Sylvester and Constantine. yes, that Constantine, the one who turned the Roman Empire Christian and moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople. In an alleged story debating over Constantine being able to take a second wife, Sylvester disagreed and Constantine threatened him. Fearing for his life, he fled and hid in the woods. After some time Constantine became sick and was near death. He had a dream telling him that only Sylvester could heal him. So he sent word for Sylvester to return. Some servants eventually found Sylvester who asked him for aid. He baptizes them and they find themselves restored from their own illness. He goes to Constantine and baptizes him again and the illness is cured and Constantine is restored. Overcome with joy for his healing, he offers Sylvester his crown, but Sylvester refuses it. Instead Constantine declares him the highest of all bishops and the lord of Rome before he leaves to Constantinople. This story is repeated in two different sets of documents, both of which have been proven to be fake, which claim to give ultimate authority over Christiandom and Rome to the Bishop of Rome thus making him the Pope. Later, other miracles would be assigned to him as well, of all manner of things, but none of miracles were proven to have occurred while he was live.
I would mainly learn about Saint Sylvester through an interesting connection between Lucumi. Sylvester is associated with the unusual orisha Osain, the orisha of wild plants, healing and magic. Osain is said to live in the wilderness and he taught magic and other special abilities to other orishas. There are no dedicated priests to Osain, but he is called upon by all when making omiero, a special herbal bath that is made in a particular way using fresh herbs, and also whenever unbeatable magic is needed to handle a situation.
Another interesting aspect to Sylvester is the means of celebration for his day in Switzerland in the canton of Appenzell. In that canton, a group of people will make unusually costumes called Silvesterklaus for December 31. The most unusual and photographed are the Ugly or Pretty Ugly costumes because of their bizarre appearance made up of freshly collected plant matter, twigs, bark, branches, moss etc which is assembled to look like people, with the ugly being older and bizarre and ugly looking and the Pretty Ugly looking more human like and beautiful, but still bizarre. A third type, the Pretty one, which is made of heavily embroidered costumes and painted masks that look like people, showing scenes of pastoral life and work. In the 20th century a fourth has been added known as Jokers, who dress more like professional people, and whose costumes are lighter in weight and don’t have large and heavy headdresses, but simple caps or or kerchiefs. It is said that these groups of Silvesterklaus that go about the canton on December 31, wearing heavy bells or many small jingle bells are to chase away the old year and any of it’s misfortune, and help bring in good luck for next year. This tradition has been recreated in a town in Wisconsin where people now dress in similar costumes every December 31.

The 12 days of Christmas – The Holy Family

December 30 marks the feast day of the Holy Family. Prior to Vatican II this feast day was actually moveable and didn’t always fall within the 8 days following Christmas, but before the new year. However, devotion to the Holy Family can reliably be dated to the 13th century, when it becomes a common image expressed in art going forward, and it became very established and widespread by the 17th century, but in mostly cases it’s feast day was chosen on a local level. While I believe the feast may have occurred during Christmastide (in that sense that Christmastide actually lasts until the begin of Lent) in the early 20th century the Feast of the Holy Family would happen after Epiphany (january 6) but before January 13, usually on a Sunday. After Vatican II it was changed and made official to be on December 30 and thus partaking in the 12 days of Christmas.
One method of invoking the aid of the Holy Family that is popular is writing ✝ J.M.J. ✝ on anything, Cards, letters, documents, personal notes, as a means of calling upon the intercession of the holy family. In case you can’t tell, it’s two crosses before and after the first initials of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus or Jesus Mary and Joseph.
My first introduction to the Holy Family was as a concept of praying for the intercession in family issues, especially between parents when there are children involved. For peace in the home and having a harmonious relationship between parents and children, prayers made to the holy family to achieve this goal, perhaps supported with peace, house blessing, and peace water sprinkled around.

The 12 days of Christmas – St Thomas Becket

On my personal facebook I have been exploring the 12 days of Christmas as I had a personal enquiry into what saints and traditions were associated with those days. I will create backdated posts for the other days, but since it’s day 4, I will start here.
In the Western Tradition, the only indication I could find for December 29, the 4th (or 3rd day depending upon how one counts it) is St Thomas Becket, the English Bishop of Canterbury who was murdered by loyal knights who interpreted an exclamation of King Henry II as a wish to have Becket killed. This happened in 1170 inside Canterbury Cathedral, and within year Pope Alexander had Becket made into a saint. Becket became very popular with the people and pilgrims began making a long journey to Becket’s shrine in Canterbury. Until Henry VIII, his bones were placed in golden container and placed inside Trinity Chapel. With the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII also had the bones taken out and destroyed and scattered. However, even after this, his cult remained active and people continued to visit places associated with St Thomas Becket and marvelous stories about his life started to appear.
I couldn’t find anything particular associated with the feast day itself, but for me, it is curious that this is recognized by the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic church. While I suspect other saints are remembered on this day in other parts of the Catholic church, I can’t find any indication of this, and it seems that images of Thomas Becket and his murder are widespread, as his flight from England before hand is well documented, and when he was murdered his extended family fled to Sicily and received aid from King of Sicily at the time. So his role as a priest and Bishop, and his influence was truly grand at a time when travel and communication could take weeks if not months across the European continent.

The 12 days of Christmas – Holy Innocents

December 28 is the Feast of the Massacre of the Innocents. In the nativity story, as part of King Herod’s search of Jesus, he orders his army to capture any male children under the age of 2 in Jerusalem (or Bethlehem) and have them killed, as he had been led to believe that this child would end up deposing him as king. These children who were murdered are the Holy Innocents, another group of early martyrs, although they weren’t faithful, but being so young, and having died because of someone seeking our Jesus, they were made into saints and various miracles have been attributed to them.
During the 12 days of Christmas, in many Spanish speaking countries, this day is their version of April fools day, with people playing pranks and tricks on others, and sometimes the prankster or the prank is called an “inocenta” as a reference to the innocents and that because of this day, it is acceptable to engage in such childish behavior.
There are also some interesting medieval traditions associated with the observance of this day. In some parts of Europe, this was a day of misrule, with adults dressing their children in adult and tradesmen clothing, and allowing them to run and demand things on that day. This would extend to a child wearing the bishops vestments in some places, and giving dictates for the day.

Another medieval tradition was that whatever day of the week Holy Innocents day fell on, this day would become a de facto vacation day in some areas, as it was considered unlucky to start or complete any work on that day of the week until the next Holy Innocents day in December which would change which day of the week.

There is a tradition within Catholicism which talks about the octave of the major feasts, primarily Christmas and Easter. Essentially the 8 days following the feast are considered to be an extension of the feast, until 8 days later which would be the same day of the week the feast was on. As Christmas moves around more, and 8 days later is New Years Day, this make New Years very holy, and that feast is considered in some ways to be as holy as the Feast of the Nativity. It also indicates that the day of the feast makes it consistently holy for the rest of the year, which I found explicitly stated for the Holy Innocents, but implied through the recognition of the Octave of Christmas. This is purely my speculation, but one could see that day of the week that Christmas falls on particular blessed for the next year, only shifting until next Christmas.

As this Christmas was on a Sunday, it signifies that Sunday is particularly blessed for this year, which is doubly enforced by Easter Sunday.