On the fifth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Five Golden Rings…
December 29th is here and so this is the “Fifth Day of Christmas.” This is a quiet day – as the days of Christmas go. Researching the traditions of the fifth day I find very little to say about the day. Today is the Feast day of Saint Thomas Becket, also called St. Thomas of Canterbury.
Now what exactly does Thomas Becket have to do with Christmas? Not much other than the unfortunate date of his demise (December 29, 1170) – and a desire for State and Church to play power games. King Henry II came to power during a turbulent period of English history. Civil war, border skirmishes, problems with the royal lands in France, squabbles about lines of succession, and the dabbling of Church and clergy in the Royal prerogative.
Henry II had difficulties with the Church in England and tried to reign in its independence from the King, and weaken the ties to Rome. Thomas Becket was Henry’s Chancellor and a long-time friend. When the position of Archbishop of Canterbury was vacant, Henry II seized the opportunity to place Thomas Becket as Archbishop. Thomas was quickly ordained as a priest - and the next day elevated in rank to Archbishop.
With Thomas as Archbishop, Henry assumed he would now get his way and have the Church in England give way to Henry’s wishes. The problem with placing a man of law with devotion to doing right in charge – is simply that you can change his titles but not his personality. Henry missed that Thomas was a man of principle – and just as while serving as Chancellor Thomas did everything to protect the interest of the King. Now as Archbishop, Thomas did everything to protect the interest of the Church.
Thomas was so effective at subverting the will of the King – that Henry’s followers eventually assassinated the Archbishop on December 29, 1170. The assassination set of a series of events that led to the King having to back down – and Thomas Becket being declared a martyr and eventually a Saint.
To emphasis the power of the Church the feast day for Thomas Becket was left in the Christmastide – to remind Kings and that there are limits to even the power of a King.
Not a very Christmas-like story at all! I did not find any food or drink or music for this day. While the Twelve Days of Christmas are focused on the joy of the season – it is an interesting balance that is maintained by having some of the twelve days focus on tragedy and sadness. Sad reality mixed with blessed hope make life more bearable.
Here is a montage from the film Becket (1964) with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. If you ever get a chance to see the movie I highly recommend it – probably one of Richard Burton’s finest performances.
Wishing you a happy and thoughtful fifth day of Christmas.