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History of Epiphany: the 12th Day of Christmas?

HISTORY OF EPIPHANY

January 6 is known in the Christian calendar as Epiphany. It signifies the event of the Magi, or Wise Men visiting the baby Jesus, and is known in certain Latin cultures as Three Kings Day. In the Eastern (Orthodox and Oriental) churches it is known as the Feast of Theophany (God Manifest), commemorating Jesus’ baptism — recounted in all four Gospels of the New Testament — with the attendant appearance of the Holy Spirit as a dove and the voice of God the Father. This date is also tied to Jesus’ miracle of changing the water to wine at the Wedding of Cana in the Gospel of John Chapter 2.

So, the 12 Days of Christmas don’t end at Christmas, Advent does. Instead, the 12 days start with Christmas, and end with Epiphany, these 12 days sometimes called Christmastide. The subsequent “season” of Epiphany lasts from January 6 through the day before Lent. Some Latin American and European cultures extend this season to February 2, or Candlemas.

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History of Childermas: Feast of the Holy Innocents

ChildermasHISTORY OF CHILDERMAS

Childermas, from an Old English word meaning the Mass of the Infants, is the festival in the church calendar commemorating the date when King Herod ordered the massacre of the children under two years of age in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, who “was born King of the Jews” according to the Wise Men as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 2. How many were killed? Some traditional claims involve as many as 6,000 or 14,000 or even 144,000, though based on the population of male children in Bethlehem at that time, a few dozen is more likely.

While it is not recorded outside the Gospel of Matthew, and this has given some recent scholars cause to doubt authenticity and “rehabilitate” Herod, there are other accounts contemporary with Herod that show insight into his character. The historian Josephus relates numerous episodes where Herod would kill leaders as well as have various members of his own family killed, prompting  Caesar Augustus back in Rome to quip “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son” playing on the homonyms pig and son in addition to the well known Jewish law against consuming pork. Additionally, the pseudepigraphal 1st century work, the Assumption of Moses, considered an extra-canonical apocryphal book though quoted in the New Testament, in a passage usually understood to be a prophesy about Herod says:

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History of the Feast of St. John: Which St. John?

HISTORY OF THE FEAST OF ST. JOHN

December 27, since the 5th century, has marked the day in the church calendar for celebrating the life of St. John the Evangelist and is known as the Feast of St. John. We’ve already mentioned that the day before, December 26 is the Feast of St. Stephen. The day after, on December 28 is the Feast of The Holy Innocents, referring to those babies killed by King Herod the Great in Bethlehem.

Which St. John is this? It is not John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, rather it’s the young disciple of Christ, known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Tradition holds that he is the author of the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John (I, II, and III John) as well as the author of the Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse. He’s also known as John the Apostle, John the Divine, John the Theologian and John of Patmos. Why?

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History of Boxing Day: Feast of St. Stephen?

HISTORY OF BOXING DAY

Boxing Day is a holiday unfamiliar to many Americans, but it it well known among the countries of the British Commonwealth. It is celebrated on December 26 as a public holiday in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and parts of Australia… as well as some parts of Europe and Africa.

While some believe it has to do with the need to dispose of empty boxes on the day following Christmas, it has nothing to do with that, nor has it anything to do with pugilistic fisticuffs.

In Britain, Boxing Day is also known by the name St. Stephen’s Day. Stephen, a man “possessing great wisdom and full of the Spirit,” was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Chapter 7 of the book of Acts of The Apostles in the Bible. He was one of the first deacons or ministers of the early church, serving table to the Hellenistic (non-Jewish) members of the church who were being neglected.

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History of Christmas: Caesar Augustus

HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS: CAESAR AUGUSTUS

Perhaps it is fitting that our last historical character on the History of Christmas should be about the first person mentioned in St. Luke’s story of the first Christmas. He was neither Palestinian, nor Jew, nor shepherd, nor wise man. He was in fact, 1500 miles away, the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, after whom is named the month of August. Were it not for his imperial decision, Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth, the home of Mary (and this would have messed up all the Old Testament prophesies.) But because of Augustus’ decree Mary and Joseph, descendants of the often married King David, returned to Bethlehem, the city of David. It was here that Mary’s first born child was born, according to Luke, in a manger as there was no room at the inn. Certainly they had not called ahead, and there were a lot of travelers at the time, it being the Christmas season and all.

Some sixty years earlier, the Roman general Pompey had conquered Palestine and it was at this time a “client kingdom” ruled by a local king, Herod the Great, who was directly responsible to the Roman emperor. Augustus himself, grand nephew and adopted heir to Julius Caesar, in addition to being emperor was a religious reformer, for he tried to revive the drooping interest in Rome’s state religion. By his day, the average Roman had abandoned his beliefs in the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon and philosophical skepticism was growing, while the more credulous joined the foreign eastern mystery cults. Feeling that this neglect of the gods was demoralizing Roman society, he set about his religious revival with enthusiasm bestowing temples and shrines on the Empire, restoring eighty-two temples in the city of Rome alone. He became “pontifex maximus” (highest priest) in the state cult and tried to spark a moral renewal in society.

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