Category Archives: Religion

St. Valentine’s 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.

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)
Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland
Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Today is Epiphany/Three Kings Day(Observed)

Adoración de los Reyes Magos
El Greco (1541–1614)
Public Domain

Epiphany or Three Kings Day is January 6 and as the Twelfth Night officially ends the Christmas season. It is a day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the arrival of The Magi (Three Kings or Wise Men). In the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Eve to January 6. And Epiphany Day was a major celebration well into the mid 19th century when its importance diminished. The Catholic Church no longer requires January 6 to be celebrated as a solemnity and celebrates it on the Sunday that follows it. Some Protestant churches celebrate the Epiphany season from January 6 till Ash Wednesday. Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 19 as they follow the Julian calendar.

In many Spanish speaking countries, Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day)is celebrated with special foods and gatherings. Many European countries have their own unique observances as well. Children often gets treats or presents on this day. In Italy, La Befana flies through the night on January 5 on a broomstick to deliver gifts to good kids and give coal to the bad ones.


Today is St. Stephen’s Day(Boxing Day U.K.)

The Demidoff Altarpiece: Saint Stephen
St. Stephen from The Demidoff Altarpiece(Carlo Crivelli–circa 1435–circa 1495) Photo:Public Domain

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.

Today is All Souls Day

Day of The Dead by William Bouguereau (1825-1905) Public Domain
Day of The Dead by William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Public Domain

All Souls’ Day is to commemorate the faithful dead and is celebrated by special mass by Catholics and other Christian denominations. Some Christian churches celebrate it on a different day. It is not to be confused with Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which does remember friends and family who have died but is not a Catholic or Christian religious event(though it takes place from 31 Oct through 2 Nov which coincides with Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day).

Today is All Saints’ Day

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24) Public Domain
The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24)
Public Domain

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.

All Saints Day (About.com)

Passover Begins Today At Sunset

Passover is an eight day festival celebrated in the spring between the 15th through 22 during the Hebrew month of Nissan. Passover commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The first two and last two days are considered holidays. On those days holiday meals are served and observant Jews do not work or drive on those days (they also cannot write and even switch on/off electric devices though exception is made for cooking and carrying food outdoors.) The middle four days are called intermediate days and most forms of work are permitted.

A very important way Jews recall the Exodus is that they cannot eat or have an form of leavened bread (and that includes any food or drink that contains wheat, barley, oats, spelt or derivatives of it). That includes a lot of foods from breads, pastas, cookies and cakes, alcohol and soda. Most processed or industrial made foods are thus not allowed unless they have been certified for Passover by a rabbinical authority. It is not uncommon to see certain sodas in heavy Jewish areas reconfigured for the Passover season (such as Coke using real sugar and nothing that is derived from leavened bread in its making).

The most important part of Passover is the Seder. It is a fifteen step tradition that is family oriented and packed with rituals for the feast. The most important points of the Seder are eating matzah, bitter herbs(to commemorate the slavery under the Egyptians),drinking wine or grape juice to commemorate their freedom, and most importantly reciting from the Haggadah. The Haggadah is the liturgy of the Exodus from Egypt and the duty of every family to recite the story so the next generation never forgets what Passover means to them.

The Israelites Leaving Egypt, 1828/1830 by David Roberts (1796-1864) Public Domain(Wikipedia)
The Israelites Leaving Egypt, 1828/1830 by David Roberts (1796-1864)
Public Domain(Wikipedia)