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Monday, December 26, Feast of St. Stephen

John, Chapter 7, verse 13:
Still, no one spoke openly about him because they were afraid of the Jews.

Stephen like Jesus is unjustly persecuted; yet he prays for his persecutors. Can we claim ourselves Christ like if we do not love our enemies? Was not Stephen, and others who have imitated him, men like ourselves? With the grace of God we do what they have done? Indeed can we call ourselves Christians were we do not to do this? No; for the love of our neighbor, and of our enemy also, is the chief token of the Christian; since it is only by this love that we become like Christ, and resemble our heavenly Father, Who makes His sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and sendeth rains upon the just and upon the unjust (Matt. v. 45). Let us, therefore, imitate the love of God, of Christ, and of St. Stephen, and then we may one day be able to give up our souls with calmness into the hands of our Maker.

The Twelve Days of Christmas[1]

But what exactly are the Twelve Days of Christmas? They are the days between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany that constitute an unbroken period of joy and celebration (see Christmas Schema). Epiphany is considered the twelfth day of Christmas (in fact it is sometimes called "Twelfth Day") while the Eve of Epiphany is called "Twelfth Night." Shakespeare's play, "Twelfth Night," takes its name from the Vigil because during this period festivals (such as the Feast of Fools or the Feast of the Ass) used to be held in which everything was turned upside-down -- a little like the reversed identities of the characters in the play. These "preposterous" observances, incidentally, were a joyful mimicry of the inversion of almighty God becoming a lowly man, of the King appearing as a humble infant. The twelve nights of Christmas were primarily a time of rest from unnecessary labor and joyful prayer. On each of these nights the Christmas tree lights and the Christmas candle would be lit, while the family would gather around the manger to recite prayers and sing carols and hymns. Similar services are held in some churches during these nights as well. Several saints' days which fall within the Octave of Christmas are also a part of the Twelve Days. This might seem odd, but their placement is deliberate. By placing their feasts near the birth of the Lord, the Church is suggesting that there is a special spiritual proximity as well. St. Stephen (December 26) is the "Proto-Martyr," the first disciple of our Lord to be martyred. Today is the first day of Christmas. St. Stephen is considered the patron saint of horses. Scholars speculate that this has something to do with the relief from work that domestic animal enjoyed during Twelfth-night; in any case, horse parades or horse races were always held on this day. One custom in rural areas was for the horses to be decorated and taken to the church, where the priest would bless them. Afterwards, they would be ridden around the church three times. Horse's food (hay or oats) is also blessed on this day. NOTA BENE: In the eleventh century, the Church instituted special feast days during the Christmas Octave for various ecclesiastical ranks. Today, on the day in which one of the first seven deacons was martyred, was the festival for deacons.

Also, today is another pagan, culturally correct day, designed to minimize the true meaning of Christmas and confuse children about the good news of the season.

Kwanzaa[2]

Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African celebration of family, community and culture. Kwanzaa, a week-long cultural festival from the 26th of December to the 1st of January that climaxes in feasts and gift giving, was initially established to unite African-Americans with their African roots and heritage.  Nguzo Saba, the seven principles that guide the holiday, is central to Kwanzaa as a different principle is emphasized every day during the celebration. Celebrants often dress in traditional Pan-African clothing and decorate their homes in African artwork. Kwanzaa was created in 1965 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a major figure in the Black Power movement, with the intention of providing African Americans with a link to their ancestral heritage. Karenga aimed to bring together African-Americans as a community through the combination of various aspects of other celebrations such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and African Yam Festivals. Since Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one; it can be celebrated by Africans from all religious backgrounds.

Kwanzaa Facts & Quotes

·         The name Kwanzaa is derived from Matunda ya kwanza, which in Swahili means first fruits.  Kwanzaa is based on the Ashanti and Zulu traditions of first fruit harvest celebrations.
·         Each day of Kwanzaa celebrates one of 7 principles, known as Nguzo Saba.  These include Unity, Self-determination, Collective work and responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green.  Each color carries an important meaning to unify those of African descent.  Black is for the people, red for the noble blood that unites all people of African descent and green for the land of Africa. A candle holder, called a Kinara, holds the seven candles that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith -- teach us that when we come together to strengthen our families and communities and honor the lesson of the past, we can face the future with joy and optimism. - Bill Clinton

Kwanzaa Top Events and Things to Do

·         Read about the seven principles of Kwanzaa with your family.  These principles teach about working together, learning from the past and strengthening bonds.
·         Attend a Kwanzaa celebration event.  In 2015 the most popular events were the Energize, Recognize! event at then American Museum of Natural History (NYC), Regeneration Night at the Apollo Theater (NYC) and the Celebration at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (Detroit, MI).
·         Prepare a festive Kwanzaa dinner.  Include Kwanzaa foods include:

1) Shisa nyama (meat cooked over a hot wood fire).

2) Kapenta with sadza (kapenta is a freshwater fish and sadza is a maize porridge).

3) Nyama na irio (mashed potatoes, peas, corn and onion served with spicy roast meat).

·         Give festive Kwanzaa gifts to your friends and family.  Some traditional gifts include a food basket, kinara candle holder, books about African culture and handwoven items like gloves and scarves.

·         Watch The Black Candle (2008).  This is a vibrant and powerful documentary that illuminates the African-American experience from the perspective of Kwanzaa.  Narrated by Dr. Maya Angelou (poet), the documentary won the award for best full-length documentary at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival in 2009.


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