Good King Wenceslas and His Friends
There is far more to the days after Christmas Day than digestion and football, though I have friends and relatives who would stoutly argue the point. Certainly a lowering of expectations begins a great degree of tranquility in the last days of the old year. Shopping as a blood sport is over for another ten months. Lunch is a pleasant browse through leftovers. Obligatory merriment is off the calendar for a while.
In the Western calendar the 26th of December is St. Stephen’s Day, honoring the first Christian martyr and the patron of charities. St. Paul helped in the stoning by guarding the stoners’ coats. He later regretted that. In the USA this is usually get-back-to-work day; in other cultures this is a day of merriment following the religious observation of Christmas Day.
Good King Wenceslaus, later a martyr himself, “looked out” on the Feast of Saint Stephen and saw a poor man. Following St. Stephen’s example of charity, Wenceslaus and his page (who was not happy about it) journeyed six miles through winter’s ice and snow tracking the poor man to deliver food and wood to his humble abode.
The 28th of December commemorates the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, detailed in Saint Matthew 2:16. King Herod failed to understand the meaning of the Magi, and ordered the slaughter of children whom he perceived to be a threat to him. This is anticipated in Jeremiah 31:15: “…Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not.”
The 29th of December honors Saint Thomas Becket, martyred by King Henry II in 1170 for the freedom of the Church. The 1964 film Becket, adapted from Jean Anouilh’s play and directed by the great Hal Wallis (Casablanca, True Grit), artfully conflates and simplifies events for the sake of the movie’s length, but serves the topic very well. In 1535 Henry VIII finally accomplished the suppression of the Church (as always, in the name of freedom), and had the remains of Becket burned and the ashes scattered.
The first of January is the Solemnity of Mary, and the 6th of January is the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Kings visited the Holy Family.
And may the Three Kings visit all of us in our humble homes this happy new year of 2017.