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.
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.
The following is from the Muppets and John Denver Christmas special done live with children.
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.
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.
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).