Well, that’s it for another year. The presents have been given, the turkey has been eaten and the decorations look like they might fall down at any moment. New Year’s Eve is out of the way, old acquaintances have already being forgotten, the kids are back at school and ahead lies nothing but peace, perfect peace. In fact, you’re probably looking forward to getting back to work for a bit of stimulation… oblivious to all the other seasonal festivals that you have missed over the last few days.
Tuesday December 27th - St John’s Day
In ecclesiastical terms this festival for St John is a bit of a ‘Johnny-Come-Lately’ being established as recently as the 13th century. The only special custom on this day was the drinking of consecrated wine in memory of St John who drank a cup of poison and survived. Men drank the wine to make them strong and women drank it to make them beautiful. In the Tyrol it offered protection from lightning, in Bavaria it offered protection from sickness. In Carinthia and Nassau in Germany consecrated wine was poured into other wine casks to help preserve the contents. The boozing became so popular that by the 17th century some scholars reckoned that the German word for Christmas, ‘Weihnacht’ (Holy Night) , was actually a misspelling of Weinnacht (Wine Night)
Wednesday December 28th - The Day of Holy Innocents a.k.a Childermass
This marks the day when King Herod, appointed by the Romans as ‘King of the Jews’ ordered the execution of all young male babies so as to avoid the loss of his throne to the newborn King of the Jews announced by the Magi. It was not a very auspicious day. It was considered unlucky to cut your nails, put on new clothes or start any new work. Worse than that the bad luck extended to all following days with the date 28. According to one source the coronation of Edward IV, provisionally arranged for Sunday 28th June 1461, was deferred because of the threat of bad luck.
In France it was customary on Holy Innocents Day to whip children to make them remember the cruelty of King Herod, accompanying the beating with songs and poems wishing good luck and a long life for the person beaten. In Germany boys and girls beat their own parents with fir branches and servants their masters with rosemary twigs. In the UK there were happier interpretations of the day. In Godstow in Oxfordshire in the 13th century public prayers were said by children. In Westminster Abbey specially adapted carols were sung in procession by children. In West Somerset and Herefordshire muffled peals of bells were rung on the day, a practise that continued well into the 20th century.
Thursday 29th December - The commemoration of the St Thomas of Canterbury
This day is an ecclesiastical remembrance of the murder of Archbishop Thomas á Becket who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on this date in 1170. He is remembered in several old carols from the time…
“The fifth day hallowed St. Thomas, Right as a strong pillar of brass Held up the church, and slain he was, And crowned was for his prowess.”
Friday 30th December
In the ecclesiastical calendar this day was reserved for the commemoration of half forgotten saints such has Timon the Deacon, Hieromartyr Zoticus the Priest and St Daniel of Pereyaslavi-Zalesska whose relics were uncovered on this day. Apparently St Daniel was able to read minds and psychically ‘view’ events happening at a great distance. My 8 year old niece can do the same using Skype.
Saturday 31st December - Dedicated to St Sylvester
St Sylvester was the bishop of Rome from 31 January, 314 to his death on the 31st December 335. As well as being an all round good egg Sylvester is also reputed to have slain a dragon and cured the Emperor Constantine of leprosy by baptising him with holy water.
So here we all are in 2017. The predictors, prophets and peepers into tea cups have already put in their pennyworth for the future. Their forecasts include Hilary Clinton resigning from politics, right wing rioters setting fire to Germany’s Reichstag and the exhumation of Shakespeare’s bones revealing that he was poisoned. Others predict Kim Jong-Un falling from power in North Korea, an assassination attempt being made against the Pope, the Houses of Parliament burning down and Donald Trump actually saying something sensible. This last prediction is a little uncertain. They might give us something to think about before we start winding up the clock for Christmas 2017. Until then - Happy New Year!
Reassuring words from a former local resident…
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”
ALFRED LORD TENNYSON - Montpelier Row
– from Martyn Day