Christmas Day inaugurates the great feast of Christmas and is the most important day of the twelve. But other feastdays during Christmastide help to deepen our experience of the season.
December 26: St Stephen’s Day
The story of Stephen is found in Acts 6-7. Stephen was the first deacon, one of seven leaders chosen to care for the poor in the early Jerusalem church. He was also the first Christian martyr.
It’s customary on this day to serve others, especially those who may be overlooked or neglected, just as St. Stephen did. Mark this day by giving to the needy, volunteering with your church or local charity, and showing hospitality to neighbors.
December 27: Honoring St. John the Beloved
Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans observe December 27 by celebrating the life and example of John, the beloved disciple. St. John did not die a martyr. According to tradition, he lived a long life and cared for Mary, the mother of Jesus, in her latter years.
St. John gave us a simple yet profound teaching: “Beloved, let us love one another” (1 John 4:7). It’s customary on this day to drink a cup of mulled cider or wine called wassail (the word literally means “be healthy”). Thank God for the blessings of life and health, and drink a toast to one another in Christlike love.
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December 28: Remembering the “Holy Innocents”
On December 28, we remember the children of Bethlehem so cruelly murdered by an evil tyrant desperately clinging to power. This is a grim day amidst the celebrations of Christmas, when death and birth stand side by side. It’s there to remind us, as Dorothy Day said, of “the closeness of joy and sorrow.”
Of course, evil and injustice still haunt our world. We still have many "Herods" to fear. Mark December 28 by praying for victims of abuse, violence, and war — women trapped in domestic violence, children abused by traffickers, and families fleeing tyranny and terrorism.
January 1: Feast of the Holy Name / New Year’s Day
Eight days after his birth, Jesus was circumcised and given his name, according to the law of Moses. This event is commemorated as the Feast of the Holy Name on January 1, the eighth day of Christmas. The lectionary and prayers for this feastday can be found here.
This day also marks the beginning of the secular new year. (Remember: the church celebrates its new year on the first Sunday of Advent.) Use January 1 to reminisce about old times and plan fun days in the year ahead. Thank God for his blessings, and do as Mary did: “treasuring up all these things, pondering them in your heart” (Luke 2:19).