Silent Night (Stille Nacht in German, Silens Nox in Latin) is perhaps the most beloved Christmas Carol. It was composed in 1818 by Franz Guber, an organist and schoolmaster, to lyrics by Father Joseph Mohr of the St. Nicholas parish in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 and since the organ was broken, the only musical accompaniment was the guitar. The popularity of the song spread and the version commonly used today comes from a translation in 1859. John Freeman Young, serving as an Episcopal priest at Trinity Church in New York City, translated and changed the tempo of the song. The original rendition by Gruber was more like a dance tune and sung faster. Young made into a slower lullaby style that is the most common version today. Because it has been so widely translated, it is the one Christmas carol that is known worldwide.
In Austria, Silent Night is not heard until Christmas Eve, usually around 9 p.m. Then it is played on the radio once an hour and of course during church services. Enjoy this wonderful carol. Merry Christmas!
Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind and eye disorders and her feast day used to coincide with the Winter Solstice which is the day often celebrated as a festival of light in many places. Many stories and legends have become associated with her but research has failed to substantiate many of them. It is known she lived in Sicily early in the fourth century and was persecuted and executed for her faith. One story that is likely true is that she was denounced as a Christian by a suitor after she turned him down because of her faith. She faced torture and death for her beliefs. Because it is believed she was blinded during Roman torture, she is the patron saint of the blind.
Her feast day is celebrated in Scandinavian countries as a festival of light during the long winter night. A young girl in a white dress and red sash carries palms and wears a wreath of candles on head. Special rolls or cookies are made for the day and often handed out to the elderly. It is also celebrated in parts of Italy particularly in Sicily and in many places of the world today. There are many churches dedicated to her and the island of Santa Lucia in the Caribbean is named for her.
Advent on the Christian calendar is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. It is a season of joy leading up to Christmas Day and also a time of preparation similar to Lent. Prayer, fasting and penance are part of the Advent season. The rules are not as strict as Lent but a time of self-preparation. The color purple is associated with penance. Each Advent Sunday is meant to ready oneself for rejoicing at the birth of Jesus that is to come. The Third Sunday of Advent is the anticipatory celebration and the color rose is used to represent joy.
The Advent wreath
Many homes and churches will have an Advent wreath to symbolize the season, and to mark each Sunday as it happens. The practice began by German Lutherans in the 18th century as a means of teaching Advent to children. The practice began to spread to Catholics and other Christian denominations as well.
Advent wreaths are circular to show that God’s love is infinite and is made with evergreen leaves. It used to be a family event to gather the leaves and make the wreath. The practice has resurfaced in recent years as many families now do this again. Advent wreaths made of artificial evergreens are available in a wide series of designs. Handmade ones can be made to last many years.
All Saints’ Day (Solemnity of All Saints, All Hallows, Hallowmas or All Saints’)is celebrated on 1 November by most Western Christians and is to honor all saints known and unknown. In some Catholic countries, it is a holiday. It is a holy day of obligation for most Catholics except when it falls on a Saturday or Monday. In that case it is celebrated on Sunday. Eastern Orthodox is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and is called All Saints’ Sunday.
Pope Boniface IV formally started All Saints’ Day on May 13, 609 AD. He also established All Souls’ Day to follow All Saints Day. Pope Gregory III (731-741 AD) moved it to 1 November as that was the day the foundation of a new chapel (St. Peter’s Basilica) was being laid. He wanted to dedicate the new chapel to All Saints. Halloween then became part of a three-day period called ‘Days of the Dead” which it is the first day of (the vigil), then followed by All Saints and then by All Souls (those in purgatory). During the reign of Pope Gregory IV (82y-844 AD), he decided to make the feast of All Saints (just celebrated in Rome at that point) universal meaning all dioceses had to observe it.
All Saints Day is a public holiday in Ireland where all schools, businesses and government is closed.
October 31st is set aside as Halloween. It is not an official holiday (meaning government shuts down, banks closed, and many professional offices closed) but is celebrated nearly as one these days. There are really two separate Halloweens, one is secular and the other religious. The secular one most people easily understand. Kids dress up in silly or scary masks and go to homes asking for candy by yelling “trick or treat” to those who open their doors. Pumpkins have become associated with the day along with all kinds of scary decorations as well. Horror movies get shown during this time. Halloween has a religious meaning to that goes back to how the Catholic Church set the day up.
The original meaning of Halloween was All Hallows Eve that got contracted over time to Halloween. All Hallows Eve is the vigil of All Saints Day, a solemnity (meaning a major feast in the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar). All Saints Day honors all the saints we know by name and any saint in heaven whose name is unknown to us. Originally this feast was celebrated 0n 13 May, but Pope Gregory III (731-741 AD) moved it to 1 November as that was the day the foundation of a new chapel (St. Peter’s Basilica) was being laid. He wanted to dedicate the new chapel to All Saints. Halloween then became part of a three-day period called ‘Days of the Dead” which it is the first day of (the vigil), then followed by All Saints and then by All Souls (those in purgatory).
During the reign of Pope Gregory IV (82y-844 AD), he decided to make the feast of All Saints (just celebrated in Rome at that point) universal meaning all dioceses had to observe it. This meant that people with their own cultures would celebrate in their own ways. It was customary in Europe back then (and still is) to have vigils the night before a major feast day, so All Hallows Eve became the time for observant Catholics to hold the vigil for All Souls. The purpose of celebrating these holy days is to remind us about heaven and hell. We remember the saints and honor them, and we pray for the souls that are in purgatory that they may soon go to heaven. It reminds us of that we have choices to make in this life that can lead to one of two outcomes: heaven or hell. By striving to live good lives by following God’s teachings, we want to go to heaven rather than the other place.
The roots of Halloween are not founded in any pagan celebration (such as Samhain or Druid festivals), and it is just coincidence that it occurs during the same time frame. If you study what those festivals were about, they had nothing to do with Christianity and followed a different belief system. However, some Protestants have made that case (that Halloween was a pagan festival coopted by the Catholic church for All Saints and All Souls) to deny celebrating those holy days. The Puritans of New England forbade those to be celebrated along with Christmas and Easter. When Catholics from Europe began arriving in America, Protestants denounced such customs (celebrating Halloween, Christmas, and Easter) as pagan.
The English, French and Irish all brought their customs with them. The Irish loved carved Jack-o-Lanterns in turnips (changed to pumpkins since they are easier to carve!). The English had a custom of knocking on doors on Halloween for Soul Cakes and promising to pray for the departed of those who gave them these treats. All of these traditions began to meld here in America becoming the basis of much what is called Halloween today. It was also combined with harvest celebrations as well making it time of fun, spooky tales, bobbing for apples, and enjoying good company. Sadly, All Hallows Eve has been hijacked by those who use it for darker things such as violence, horror, and sexuality. Someone dressing up in sexually explicit garments or glorifying horror is not what Halloween was meant for (either religious or secular).
That and the over commercialization of Halloween (it is a major marketing season for candy, apparel, haunted houses, and scary movies) has caused many faithful and concerned parents to shun those events and do things differently. That is why you are seeing more family friendly Halloween events and parties where those elements are not present. And doing some prayer in preparation for the feast of All Saints as well. Watching vulgar movies that glorify evil are avoided for ones that show good over evil or just plain fun (like the original Ghostbusters, the Good Witch movies). And telling some excellent ghost stories can also be fun as well.
Rossetti, Steven J. 2021. Diary of an American Exorcist: Demons, Possession, and the Modern-Day Battle against Ancient Evil. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press.
Rutler, George William. 2014. Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ & What They Mean for You. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press.
Van Den Aardweg, Gerard JM. 2009. Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory. Charlotte NC: Tan Books.
Baker, Robert A and Nickell, Joe. Missing Pieces: How to Investigate Ghosts, UFO’s Psychics, & Other Mysteries. 1992. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books
Thigpen, Paul. 2019. Saints and Hell, and Other Catholic Witnesses to the Fate of the Damned. Charlotte NC: Tan Books.
Today is Good Friday, an important event in the Christian liturgical calendar. Some argue the word Good is a corruption and used to mean God Friday. Others argue it always meant that the day is meant to be pious or holy. For Christians, Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified on the cross. Observant Christians will mark the day by silent meditation, prayer, and church attendance. Many will fast during the day, particularly during the hours of 12 noon to 3 p.m. Hot Cross Buns are a traditional food many cultures use on this day (and through the Easter season). Most Catholics and Christians will avoid eating meat on this day and usually the main meal will be fish. Good Friday (and sometimes Easter Monday)are public holidays in many countries. Good Friday always occurs on the Friday before Easter Sunday.
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week on the Christian Calendar. This feast takes place the Sunday before Easter and commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The symbolism of Jesus arriving on a donkey is symbolic of coming in peace rather than on a steed as a soldier might do. While palms can be used for religious services held on this day, it is not always possible to have them. So in many places substitutes are used from other trees such as the olive, yew or other native trees. This lead to Palm Sunday sometimes referred to locally as Yew Sunday or Branch Sunday.
The feast is celebrated both in Western and Eastern churches though not at the same time due to different calendars (the West uses the Gregorian while Eastern Orthodox uses the Julian).
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and known for bringing Christianity to Ireland. He was born in 390 A.D in Britain and raised by a Christian family. However he was not much interested in God and at the time was illiterate. When he was 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he was forced to work as a shepherd on a hillside. All alone except for his sheep and captors. he began to cry out to God for rescue him. He had a dream in which God revealed himself and that he would be going home.
Risking his life, he boarded a ship for Britain where he returned to his family. He was welcomed back but realized that he had been transformed by God. He entered a monastery to pursue his calling as a Catholic priest. As a result of his education, he came to understand Holy Scripture and impressed his peers and superiors with his character. He would be made a bishop in due course. Nearly three decades after this slavery in Ireland, he felt a call from God that he had to return to Ireland and spread the word of Jesus to a people who had become lost. This was no easy journey for him since travel was difficult but he faced hostility from those who opposed him trying to convert people away from paganism. Patrick was ready though to face the trials that might take his life (he was attacked and beaten by thugs and Irish royalty disdained him) and persevered in proclaiming the Gospel and training converts.
His courageous leadership and his crisscrossing the countryside paid off as thousands and more would be converted. Churches were being established and he was training those to shepherd the church after he was gone. He would die on March 17, 461 A.D. He has been venerated as a saint and patron saint of Ireland since then by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches. In Ireland it is a solemnity and thus a holy day of obligation. It is also a cultural day as well to celebrate Ireland. Traditionally many in Ireland will wear shamrocks, wear green, attend Mass, watch parades, have a special breakfast and dinner, and of course celebrate by having a beer in their favorite pub (or outside due to the crowds). It has been a public holiday in Ireland since 1903. Since the feast does fall within Lent and is a solemnity in Ireland, it is permissible to eat foods normally excluded during this time (or any food you have selected to give up). Outside of Ireland though, it is not and local bishops will offer guidance. If it should fall on a Friday, generally the Lenten rule of no meat is lifted for that day.
Valentine’s Day is used by many to show their affection or love for someone they care about. It has spawned an industry for greeting card makers, candies, and of course flowers. However there is a real religious component as many Christian denominations celebrate it as feast day, commemoration, or optional for the local diocese (such as the Catholic Church). Valentine was the name of many Christian martyrs in the early Church resulting in them all being remembered for their acts of sacrifice for the faith. Some denominations, such as Eastern Orthodox Church, celebrate a particular St. Valentine on two different days.
The association with romantic love could be linked to an ancient Roman festival has been made but there is no evidence of any link. Most seem to believe the link began with Chaucer’s Parlemont of Foules where he indicates birds choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day although 14 Feb might not be the day Chaucer was referring to. Other poems made the association of love and St. Valentine’s Day in the medieval period and English Renaissance. For those who needed love verses but lacked the ability to compose them, publishers starting offering them. Then putting them on paper and sending them became possible. Paper valentines became very popular in 19th century England resulting in their industrial production. They became popular in the United States as well. With such cards being popular, you needed other things to accompany a card. Roses and chocolates became popular, likely due to skillful marketing to associate them with the day. And so Valentine’s Day became a very major day for greeting card companies, chocolate makers, and sellers of flowers (roses being the most popular flower for the day).
Of course we ought to remember that it is based upon Valentine, who became a saint after he was martyred in Rome in 269 and buried on Flaminian Way. He is the patron saint of Love, Young People, Happy Marriages.