Category Archives: Holidays

Welcome To January

Photo of Head of Janus
Vatican Museum, Rome
Source: Loudon Dodd (via Wikimedia)

January is the first month on the Gregorian and the Julian calendar. It is named after the Roman god of doors, Janus, as this month is a doorway into the new year. Janus is an interesting Roman god as he is two-faced. Thus, he can see both the future and the past. In January, you can see the previous year and view the upcoming one. Prior to the Julian calendar, the calendar was set by lunar rather than solar days. This resulted in problems creeping in and causing confusion. Also, the start of the new year was in March since spring started in that month. This meant that January and February were the last two months of the year on the old Roman calendar.

The problem with the old Roman calendar
Since the calendar relied on lunar rather than solar days, it was three months ahead of the solar based calendar. Which meant if you used one calendar for civic events but the other for your growing season, then obviously problems would arise. Caesar was advised by Sosigenes, an Alexandrian astronomer who helped create the Egyptian solar calendar, to also make the Roman one based on the sun rather than moon. Under his plan, the year was divided into 12 months and each month had either 30 or 31 days. He calculated a solar year as 365 ¼ days. February was the exception by having 28 days and every four years having a leap year to add an extra day. Due to misunderstandings and other issues, it would not come into effect until 8 BC.

Sosigenes calculations turned out later to be off by 11 minutes and 14 seconds. That would seem trivial but, over time, the cumulative effect was a 10 day difference from Caesar’s time. Which meant the calendar was no longer aligned with the solar year and had to be rectified. This caused problems with celebrating holy days that needed to be calculated precisely according to astronomical and other calculations. The drift was noticed in the Middle Ages and calls to correct were made. At the Council of Trent (1545), Pope Paul III was authorized to reform to calendar to allow for a more consistent scheduling of Easter.

While several reforms were suggested, a proposal made by Aloysius Lilius offered a reform that was considered acceptable. His proposal was to reduce the number of leap years in the past (making them common years rather than leap). And then he had an idea of adjusting the phases of the moon (meaning a method to calculate the difference between solar and lunar years) when calculating the annual date of Easter. This had always been a problem in the past and his solution seemed to resolve it.

Gregorian Calendar Introduced
In October 1582, Pope Gregory XIII issued the reform of the Julian calendar. It was adopted by the Catholic Church and the Papal States. Since however this was a civic reform, it was up to each nation to decide whether to implement or not. It would gradually be adopted by many countries. Spain was the first to switch over and that included much of Roman Catholic Europe. Protestant countries were not keen on changing right away since the reform was made by the Catholic Church. The British would adopt it 1750 but by a method to avoid saying it was from the Catholic Church. Sweden adopted in 1753. Turkey would switch to using the fiscal year as Gregorian in 1917 and then for the entire calendar in 1926. Russia, under the Communist government, changed in 1918. Greece would change in 1923. Saudi Arabia would formally adopt it in 2016.

Eastern Orthodox denominations decided for religious purposes to use the Julian rather than Gregorian for their liturgical year (separate from the civic calendar). Which is why in countries like Greece or Russia the celebration of Christmas and Easter is currently 13 days after it is celebrated elsewhere.

Sources:

Britannica.com
Catholic Encyclopedia
Timeanddate.com


Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Massacre of the Innocents
Matteo di Giovanni (1435–1495)
Public Domain

The Feast of the Holy Innocents or Innocent’s Day is to remember the slaughter of male children 2 years and younger in Bethlehem and in its vicinity by Herod the Great. The story as related in the Gospel of Matthew (2:16-18). Herod was angered when the Wise Men did not return to him after locating the Messiah. No one can say with certainty how many were killed. Some have doubted it happened at all but it would be consistent with Herod the Great’s personality. He had no problems executing even members of his family if he thought they were betraying him. And since Bethlehem was a small area, the slaughter may not have been widely noticed.

Nearly all the Christian churches observe the feast day though not on the same day. The Catholic Church and most western churches observe it on December 28 but Eastern Orthodox celebrates on December 29. The slain children are treated as martyrs of the church. It is not certain when it was first observed. While the exact date of the deaths is unknown, it is kept in the octave of Christmas as followed after the birth of Jesus. However it is believed it took place 2 years after Jesus birth. Matthew says the Wise Men saw child with his mother indicating he was no longer a baby. And Herod had learned from the Wise Men the approximate date of the birth.

Sources:

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family

The Flight into Egypt (Albrecht Dürer 1471-1528)
Photo: Public Domain

The Feast of the Holy Family was instituted as liturgical celebration of the Roman Catholic Church to venerate the Holy Family–Jesus, Saint Joseph and Blessed Mary–as a model for all Christian families. The feast was first introduced in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII and set on the Sunday after the Epiphany. However in 1969 it was moved to the first Sunday after Christmas to make it part of the Christmas season.

Sources:
Feast of the Holy Family (Britannica.com)
The Feast of the Holy Family(ChurchYear.net)

Today is the Feast of St.Stephen (Boxing Day U.K.)

Saint Stephen by Carlo Crivelli (1476)
Source: National Gallery, London via Wikimedia Commons.
Public Domain in UK and US; may be restricted in other countries.

If you remember the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas , you heard the name. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian church who was accused of blasphemy and put on trial by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. After a trial in which he denounced them, Stephen was stoned to death. One of the witnesses to the event was Saul of Tarsus, who later converted and is known today as the apostle Paul. Stephen is considered the first martyr for the faith, the reason his feast day immediately follows the celebration of Jesus birth. All the major Christian congregations–Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox–all venerate him as a Saint and celebrate the feast day (Western churches on 26 December, 27 Dec Orthodox, and 8 Jan Oriental Orthodox). In some countries (mainly Western Europe) it is a public holiday.

In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand it is celebrated as Boxing Day, a secular holiday that falls on the same day as Feast of Stephen. Traditionally it is the day in which servants and tradespeople receive the “Christmas box” from their employers. While that tradition may still hold true, it is either a second Christmas day for some or an extra shopping day (though in some countries it apparently is a day when a lot of returns to retailers takes place). It is also a major sports day as well.

Further Information

St. Stephen (Catholic Encyclopedia)
St. Stephen (Britannica)
Boxing Day (pauldenton.co.uk)

Leavenworth (Bavarian Village) on Christmas Day 2020

Christmas has finally arrived in Leavenworth. The morning started out cold with someone dispatched from the city to make an adjustment to the tree lighting. It had been pretty mild during the week with no snow until this afternoon. Kids have been tobogganing down the grass area in the park prior to that. Not much fun but at least the grass is stiff from the hard freeze. But with snow kids magically reappeared in numbers and happily tobogganing again in the park with real snow. Most retail places are closed and just a few eateries are open today. Still a wonderful place to visit on Christmas Day and with snow coming down magical. You can watch the livestream here.

The Bavarian Village (Leavenworth, WA) on Christmas Day afternoon 12/25/2020
Mark Taylor

 

First Day of Winter/Winter Solstice

Today is the first day of winter and the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day for the Northern Hemisphere. The Winter Solstice usually falls between December 20-23 and the sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn resulting in the North Pole being tilted the furthest away. The result is shorter days for sunlight for the Northern Hemisphere. And the further north you are (like Alaska or Scandinavian countries) means less sun during the day. The reverse happens in the Southern Hemisphere as the sun is closer to them and they celebrate the Summer Solstice. Those closer to the South Pole can have nearly 24 hours of sun during this time of year.

Winter Solstice seen from space.
NASA

Many cultures observed the Winter Solstice as it marked an important time in the agricultural cycle. By this time all crops and livestock had been prepared for winter. Important foodstuffs were stored for the months when virtually nothing grew. Wine and beer, which had been fermenting during the year, was ready at this time. Cattle and pigs would often be killed at the start of winter so they would not have to be fed during this time. The early months of winter were tough in many places and often called the “famine months” since little food was to be found. Many cultures observed the Winter Solstice as a renewal or that the year was reborn. For out of the seeming withdrawal of the sun, it would come back just as strong and powerful as before. Thus the Winter Solstice was seen by many as the start of a new year such as the old Roman Feast of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus) which happened around the 25th of December.

For more information:

 

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Photo:Public Domain Photo:Public Domain

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and it is the last one of course before Christmas. Advent is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus and not Christmas itself. While the secular world conflates the two (Advent and Christmas), the distinction is kept within the Christian church. Advent is a time of preparation for the birth so spiritual readings and vestments will reflect it. Unlike Lent which has strict observances that include fasts, Advent has no such strict requirement.

Yet it is a time for reflection as one awaits the approach of Christmas Day. In more olden times, there were fasts (it is still practiced in Eastern and Russian Orthodox where meat and dairy is prohibited for a specific period leading up to Christmas Day) but it is no longer a requirement in most Western churches. However there is a trend emerging that encourages the faithful to perhaps give up something during Advent or perform a service that benefits others (like volunteering to help feed homeless people). Music during this period also is designed to do this as well.

Come, let us rejoice in the Lord, let us acclaim God our salvation.
Let us come before him proclaiming our thanks, let us acclaim him with songs. (Psalm 95)

Happy Sunday everyone!

Christmas Music for Your Friday

As we count down the days till Christmas Day next Friday, here are some popular tunes of the holiday for you. Enjoy!

And the ending of that all time favorite It’s A Wonderful Life.