Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ninth Day of Christmas
Becomes a Moveable Feast Day

It may be the second day of a new year, but according to a calendar originally devised closer to the birth of Christ than the year 2019, today was known as the Ninth Day of Christmas. The only trouble was: for which saint did the church decide to establish this day's honor?

Apparently, the honors now go to two different men: Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen. Both of these saints lived during the fourth century, a formative period in the history of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Their feast day is now established—well, if you follow the Catholic Church's calendar—on the second day of January, but that wasn't always so.

Saint Basil, for one, had long been celebrated, at least in Greece, as the one bringing gifts to children on—what else?—Saint Basil's Day, January first.

But this is January second.

Somehow, the saint's day was originally set on January first because it was believed it was the day of his death. After all, that is the tradition for many saints' days. But for whatever reason, in the thirteenth century, the saint's day was moved to June 14, because that was believed to be the date of his ordination as bishop in Cappadocia (in modern-day Turkey). Of course, that designation didn't last, either, for in the Catholic church's revision in 1969—and since January 1 was already taken by another designation—Saint Basil's day was finally established as January 2, along with that of Saint Gregory Nazianzen.

As for what people actually did to celebrate, well, all we can determine is that they feasted. At least, that is what we can see for those of our ancestors who claimed their heritage in the British Isles: "continuous feasting and merrymaking." If you think a celebration for Christmas and another for New Year's Eve is over the top, you are apparently not the party animal your English ancestors once were.

Still, it all depends on which religious persuasion your ancestors followed. As the ancestral timeline wound its way toward the present day, the feast day of both saints finds its spot on the calendar to be on many different dates—in Saint Basil's case, for instance, January 10 for the Lutherans, January 14 for the Coptic church, January 30 for the Eastern Orthodox churches, and not until June 14 for the Episcopalians.

Who knows if anyone took their inspiration to celebrate from the lives of either of these saints—whether debating heresy, giving gifts to children, writing autobiographical poems, or even living as a hermit—but one thing is sure: this was a day set aside to remember specific people no longer with us who once provided inspiration in what they did with their life. Today, we might call such people mentors. Even for those weary of merrymaking after the holiday season, we can always use an inspiring mentor to guide us into a new year. 


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