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.

12 days of Christmas – St John the Evangelist

The next feast day on December 27 is the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist, the mythical author of the Gospel of St John. Mythical because nobody knows who wrote the Gospels, and the names associated with them come from tradition, not from direct knowledge of the authors.
The Gospel of John is the most mystical of the gospels, breaking from the pattern established by Matthew and Luke and introducing aspects that are more consistent with Christian Gnostic movements than mainstream Christianity. This gospel almost got rejected when the bible was canonized, but unlike other Gnostic or mystical texts of the time, it adhered to certain beliefs that were also canonized and thus was entered in, barely.
Each of the Gospels have an identifying image that might also be used in heraldry as they took on various saints of evangelists as patrons. I had mistakenly believed that John was identified by the face of the Man, but he is in fact the Eagle. This changes some of the symbolism associated with him. In occult symbolism, the Eagle, as a symbol of Saint John, is also tied the sign of Scorpio, the sign of fixed water, which the sun passes through at the end of Autumn and the beginning of Winter from October to November. Each of the fixed signs have a star associated with it, but visibly independent of it which are known as “Watchers.” The Watcher for Scorpio is the star Antares. It is considered the watcher of the west and the heart of scorpio. A talisman of this star, when made at a properly elected time, can bestow various virtues, include health, understanding and memory, and the driving away of evil spirits. . In a complex arrangement, the angel associated with this Watcher is said to be Uriel, but other times Gabriel, depending upon which occult system you’re using. I associate Gabriel with the lonely star of winter, Fomalhaut, which makes Uriel associated with Antares. Uriel is a complex angel. One one hand he is thought to have visited God’s wrath in various biblical and extra biblical stories, but is also an angel of repentance. However, Uriel is also considered to be an angel of the arts and sciences, an angel of wisdom, and a keeper of light and beauty. his name means God is my flame, or as Auriel, the light of God. It seems appropriate that the most mystical of gospels and it’s author, would also be connected to the most complicated and mystical of angels as well, through the symbol of the eagle as the indicator of the gospel and saint, but also as the direction of West and of Antares.

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.