On page 7 of the December 2010 MB Herald is ‘A traditional Calendar of Christmas‘ which is a list of Advent fasts, feasts and traditions, some of which most Mennonites have never needed to know about – until now.
Another one on the calendar list is St. Andrew’s Day on November 30th. Here is some interesting info on this patron saint of Scotland and the traditions surrounding this day:
Like most important saints, Andrew was not left in his tomb to rest in peace. According to St. Jerome, Andrew’s remains were taken from Patras to Constantinople in the fourth century by order of the Roman emperor Constantine an, according to tradition, a few body parts were taken by St. Rule to Scotland before they made it to Constantinople. These relics were held in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, but were likely destroyed in the Scottish Reformation. In 1208, St. Andrew’s remains were moved from Constantinople to the Church of Sant’ Andrea in Amalfi, Italy. In the 15th century, Andrew’s head was brought to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
In 1879, the Archbishop of Amalfi sent Andrew’s shoulder blade to the reestablished Catholic community in Scotland. In September 1964, Pope Paul VI returned Andrew’s head to Patras as a gesture of goodwill to the Christians in Greece. In 1969, when Gordon Gray was in Rome to be appointed the first Scottish Cardinal since the Reformation, he was given some relics of St. Andrew with the words, “Saint Peter gives you his brother.” These are now displayed in a reliquary in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh.
Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Russia and Scotland, as well as fishermen, singers, unmarried women, and would-be mothers.
In some parts of Europe a superstitious belief exists of magic the night before St. Andrew’s that may reveal a young woman’s future husband to her. Related customs include the pouring of hot lead into water in order to divine the future husband’s profession depending on the shape of the resulting piece. In some areas, young women would drink wine and perform a spell, called Andreasgebet (Saint Andrew’s prayer), while kicking a straw bed in the nude. This was how to magically attract her future husband [SOURCE].
Another feast the MB Herald promotes is St. Barbara’s Day (December 4th). Saint Barbara was a mythological martyr whose legend cannot be confirmed. As the legend goes, she was carefully guarded by her pagan father who kept her locked in a tower in order to protect her from the world. When she secretly became a Christian, he drew his sword to slay her but her prayers opened the tower wall, miraculously transporting Barabara to a mountain gorge. One shepherd protected her from her father, but another who betrayed her was turned to stone, his sheep into locusts. After being dragged away and tortured, every morning her wounds were miraculously healed and fire wouldn’t burn her. Finally she was condemned to beheading by her father who was then struck by lightning. Barbara’s tomb became the site of miracles. On her feast day, unmarried members of the family are to go out into the orchard and cut twigs from the cherry trees. The one who picked the cherry twig that blossoms on Christmas Day can expect to get married next, and is considered to be “Mary’s favorite.”. St. Barabara is one of the most popular saints of the Catholic Church.
Other feasts the MB Herald promotes on this calendar are St. Nicholas’ Day and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a uniquely Catholic feast, on December 8th. Of no small matter is the fact that the doctrine of the immaculate conception is not taught in the Bible.
Then there is St. Lucia’s Day on December 13th. Saint Lucy was a martyr who supposedly couldn’t be picked up by the guards who came to take her away because she was so filled with the Holy Spirit that she was “stiff and heavy as a mountain.” Even when they hitched her to a team of oxen they could not budge her. Finally, after implanting a dagger through her throat they say she prophesied against her persecutor. Unfounded and even absent in the many narratives and traditions is the story of Lucia’s torture by eye-gouging. This is why paintings are seen of her holding a plate with two eyeballs. Speaking of body parts, Lucy’s are kept to this day as relics by Roman Catholics; her head lies beneath a silver mask on a pillow (see here) at her church, the Church of Saints Geremia. [Also read Santa Lucia of the gondoliers brought home to Sicily after a millennium.] Today there are all kinds of traditions, celebrations and even prayers to St. Lucy, the symbol of light.
Another traditional feast day called St. Thomas’ Day, listed by the MB Herald for December 13th, has technically been changed and is now celebrated on July 3rd, but previously…
In some parts of central Europe ancient customs of “driving demons away are practiced on the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle (December 21) and during the following nights (Rough Nights), with much noise, cracking of whips, ringing of hand bells, and parades of figures in horrible masks.
In a Christianized version of this custom farmers will walk through the buildings and around the farmyard, accompanied by a son or one of the farm hands. They carry incense and holy water, which they sprinkle around as they walk. Meanwhile, the rest of the family and servants are gathered in the living room reciting the rosary. This rite is to sanctify and bless the whole farm in preparation for Christmas, to keep all evil spirits away on the festive days, and to obtain God’s special protection for the coming year.
— Handbook of Christian Feast and Customs, ©1952.
The MB Herald also lists St. Sylvester’s Day, a day when the Roman Catholic Church honors St. Sylvester (Pope Sylvester), a Roman Christian who became pope in 314 and continued in that role (during the reign of Constantine) until his death in 335. His feast day falls on December 31 and is celebrated in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland [SOURCE]. The relics of Pope St Sylvester were exhumed and re-enshrined beneath the high altar of the church dedicated to him, San Silvestro. On his feast day, Catholics gain a plenary indulgence by reciting the Te Deum [SOURCE].
There is something odd about seeing this calendar in the MB Herald. If the Mennonites consider Christmas to be about the birth of Jesus (supposedly ‘the reason for the season’) why is it that the MB Herald is encouraging Mennonites to remember these days and traditions that are dedicated to the dead and surrounded by undocumented legend, superstition, and relic worship? Are there any Mennonites, besides the MB Herald contributors, who would even want to start practicing these traditions, none of which have anything to do with Jesus?
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 2 Timothy 4:4
On page 6 of the December MB Herald we read: “The tradition of making an Advent wreath is sometimes attributed to Martin Luther.” However, some sources suggest that the circular Advent Wreath and its candles are actually pre-Christian, a Pagan practice absorbed into Christian observances like many Pagan rites as Christian conversion spread across Europe. [Source: Pagan Origin, Use of the Advent Wreath: Christmas, Winter Solstice Symbolize Need for Spiritual Light] Read also about the Wheel of the Year.
Regardless of the controversy which surrounds so many Christmas traditions (such as the wreath and the Christmas tree which have their roots in paganism, requiring discernment, maturity and personal conviction to deal with) what about the origin of all the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church? [See: What is the origin of the Catholic Church?] Isn’t this a prime example of Christianity compromised with tradition and pagan religion that we should avoid? Why does the MB Herald continue to encourage such compromise with Roman Catholicism and the very traditions that Menno Simons condemned? Are these “traditional calendar” events also considered part of the Mennonite rites of worship which was the theme in the last MB Herald issue? Do the Mennonites realize that they are slowly returning to the church that Menno Simons left?
Do some Christmas traditions have pagan origins?