Two apostles are remembered in December: Thomas (on the 21st) and John (on the 27th). Martyrs St. Stephen (the first martyr or “protomartyr,” 26 Dec.), and the Holy Innocents (28 Dec.) The Feast of the Holy Innocents (which is one of the few feasts not of Our Lord which can be observed on a Sunday) recalls the massacre of all male children under the age of two years, killed in King Herod’s attempt to rid himself of the Christ child (Mtt. 2.16-18).
By calendar 6 December is the date for the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra (d. A.D. 346). The date falls on a Sunday this year, and so the feast is not observed, but “rumor has it” that we can expect a visit from the saint following the 10:15 Mass on that Sunday! Nicholas is a patron of young children, Russia, sailors, and pawn brokers. The three balls over a pawn shop door recall this patronage, representing the bags of money Nicholas is reputed to have tossed into the windows of girls who were unable to marry for lack of dowries. Gift-giving and children have thus been associated with Nicholas, with the figure “Santa Claus” being a combination deriving from the Dutch practice of gift-giving on 6 December, 19th C. Thomas Nast illustrations of A Christmas Tale, and the very successful 1920’s advertising campaigns of the Coca-Cola Company. Nicholas’ feast is followed by that of St. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), one of the authors of the Te Deum (“We Praise Thee, O God”), the canticle used often at Morning Prayer. On 8 December we remember the Conception of the Blessèd Virgin Mary.
The Prayer Book and lectionary provide for three different Masses for Christmas, and we will celebrate all three: Christmas I as a vigil service on 24 December (celebrated as a family service), at 4:00 p.m. This service will be especially suitable for young children. Christmas II will be a vigil service on 24 December, at 11:00 p.m., with music beginning at 10:30 p.m. The service will include the choir, brass, and organ music. Christmas III will be celebrated at 9:00 a.m. on Christmas day (said service with hymns).