Ninth Day of Christmas: Nine Ladies Dancing

On the ninth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
nine ladies dancing…

January 2nd  is here and so this is the “Ninth Day of Christmas.” One would think after all  these festivities and frolics of the previous days, it would be difficult to find nine ladies dancing. On the other hand after all the food and drink of the the last few weeks – perhaps dancing is just what the personal trainer ordered!

The celebrations and significance of the first eight days of Christmas seems fairly clear. Probably because it is the eight days from Christmas to New Year’s day. January 2nd seems muddled in the meaning of the day. Perhaps that is because after all this celebrating a break is needed!

I find in several references that today is referred to as the Octave of St. Stephen. I had never heard of an Octave before in the spiritual sense – only in the musical sense! An Octave in the sense of the Christian Church is a period of eight days focused on the contemplation of a particular concept. The Octave of St. Stephen seems to be focused on the concept of sacrifice and devotion. As the Octave of St. Stephen is also overlayed with the Octave of the Christmas (which runs from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day) it seems the celebration of St. Stephen is subsumed by the larger events.

Today is also in the feast day of St. Basil the Great. St. Basil was an important scholar on early Church doctrines.  Many of his writings shaped the thought of the early Church, and helped clarify many of the concepts central to Christianity. He is recognized as an important theologian by all branches of Christianity, and venerated by both the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity.

St. Basil was born into wealth and privilege. Through that advantage of birth he was gifted with an extensive education in the knowledge of the world. He was apparently an observant and thoughtful man who applied his learning to morality and ethics. His many homilies on various topics touched on the importance of building community and helping others. His devotion to early Christianity caused him to give away his money to the poor, and to pursue learning and teaching as a way of life for the good of others. His example, and his biography, is perhaps one that should be given to our politicians to remind them of what it means to be “of service to others.”

Looking up foods for today I note that on the USA celebrations listing today is National Buffet Day. That makes perfect sense to me! All those leftovers who needs to cook? Haul out the leftovers and have a smorgasbord!

On the downside some cultures consider today the “unluckiest day of the year.” Mainly because all that good luck of the previous few weeks must be balanced out by fate! Of course that could just be the pessimists in the world looking for an excuse to party.

Hope you are having a Merry New Year on this the second day of the year – and the ninth day of Christmas.

Sixth Day of Christmas: Six Geese-a-Laying

Six Geese A-Laying

On the sixth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Six Geese-a-Laying

December 30th is here and so this is the “Sixth Day of Christmas.”  The day of six geese-a-laying – and well symbolically things align as a flock of geese is a family. On the calendar of feasts days this is the  Feast of the Holy Family – and really what is Christmas if not a celebration of family? Now I know some will react and say – but that leaves out so many people that have no family, or have broken families. And here I would remind you that all families are made, and re-made. A family is at first invented by two strangers who by chance and circumstance connect and bond and grow together. These two then draw in others by choice, creation and procreation.

We all come from families and then move ahead and create our own families. And these created families then move ahead – they grow and divide and recreate into new circles of love and caring.

When one stops and thinks of what the Church calls the Holy Family – it is not exactly a traditional family. Here we have a young woman pregnant before marriage, and hurriedly married to an older man willing to act as husband and step-father. In the cultural norms of their historical  time period – that was shocking stuff. Yet by all the stories this newly created grouping thrived as a family unit – choosing to be together and struggle together through the unusual circumstances of their story.

The truth about family is this: A family not something created by the bonds of blood and DNA . A family is created by love, respect and entirely by choice. Yes blood may be thicker than water – but blood is still mostly water.

So how to celebrate today? By reaching out to your chosen family. Send an email. Make a call. Stop by and say hello.

Take time to have a meal together – maybe some Middle Eastern cuisine like  stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, hummus and flat bread, lentils and rice, or just whatever makes you feel comfort in each other.

Share a cup of tea. Or a glass of wine. And just talk about what was and what is yet to come. Celebrate your successes, and build your dreams. That is what family is all about.

Merry Sixth Day of Christmas to you and your family!

Fourth Day of Christmas: Four Calling Birds

christmas paint

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Four Calling Birds…

December 28th is here and so this is the “Fourth Day of Christmas.” This day adds a somber connection to the celebration of Christmas as it is the “Feast of the Holy Innocents“, also called the Massacre of the Innocents. The day reflects on the story in the Gospel of Matthew of the slaughter of the male infants by King Herod.

The somber tone of the day is captured in the traditional Christmastide hymn, the Coventry Carol and the words:

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

Every year children are the collateral damage of war, and greed. In the midst of all the joy and festivities associated with Christmas time, it is easy to forget, or even avoid, the tragedy and sadness that is also in the world. Individuals will choose to commit terrible acts of madness that leave the rest of the world gasping in shock and horror. How on earth can anyone choose to cause such harm?

On the lighter side of this day – this is also a day to celebrate the joy of our children and the precious life of the future generations. A society, a culture, a civilization is nothing without its children. All the goodness and sanity and wonder of the world is useless unless there is someone to carry on that goodness into the future. We bequeath what we are and what we have learned to our children so they can make something even better.

Within that lighter side of the day some cultures use this day as an opportunity for role reversals. On this day the youngest member of the household rules the day. This may actually be another borrowed aspect of Saturnalia that can be found throughout the Christmas season – when slaves became “masters” for the day. In some countries part of the upside-down aspect of the day is celebrated with “practical jokes” similar to April Fool’s Day.

The traditional food of the day – since it is a day of infants – is anything a baby could eat. Most commonly some type of hot cooked cereal flavoured with sugar and cinnamon. After all the rich foods of the previous days of Christmas a simple bowl of oatmeal might be a welcome change! Add a nice mug of hot milk and one is all set for a nice quiet day of enjoying family.

Wishing you a Peaceful Fourth Day of Christmas!

Third Day of Christmas: Three French Hens

On the third day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Three French Hens…

December 27th is here and so this is the “Third Day of Christmas.” In the Western Christian tradition this is the  Feast of Saint John – which makes this St. John’s Day. St. John was the only Apostle that was not martyred  for his beliefs, and lived into old age.

One story of St. John the Evangelist  suggests that there was an attempt to poison St. John, by placing poison in his wine. St. John blessed the wine before he drank it – and thus cleansed it of any poison. A tradition of this day is then to take a bottle of wine to Church, and have the bottle blessed. The wine is then consumed as part of the family dinner.

As part of the tradition of this day in the Roman rite of the Church this prayer was part of the December 27th mass:

O Lord God, deign to bless and consecrate with Thy right hand this cup of wine and of whatever drink: and grant that through the merits of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, all who believe in Thee and who drink from this cup may be blessed and protected. And as blessed John drank from the cup of poison and remained completely unharmed, may, through his merits, all who drink from the cup on this day in honor of blessed John be rescued from every sickness of poison and from every kind of harm; and, offering themselves up body and soul, may they delivered from all fault. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bless, O Lord, this creature of drink: that it may be a remedy of salvation for all who consume it: and grant through the invocation of Thy holy name that whoever will have tasted of it may, through Thy giving, experience health of the soul as well as of the body. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

And the blessing of almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, descend upon this creature of wine and of whatever drink, and remain forever. Amen.

This sounds like my kind of celebration – the blessing and drinking of wine. In moderation of course – with no driving afterwards.

In doing some further reading on St. John’s Day, I came across a reference to a traditional drink: William Kaufman provides this recipe in the Catholic Cookbook for a St. John’s Day mulled wine:
1 quart red wine
3 whole cloves
1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar

Pour the wine into a large saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 5 minutes (which will reduce the alcohol and let the flavours meld). Serve hot. 8-10 servings. Toast each other with the traditional offering of “Drink the love of St. John.”

Happy Third Day of Christmas – and Cheers!