If you scroll back up to the picture from the medieval calendar I’m using at the top of this post, you’ll see that December 8 is marked by a Fleur de Lis that may or may not be trying to catch the fish beneath it on a line. On this day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated. The Fleur de Lis is one of Mary’s many symbols, and the fish is presumably Christ. Why Christ is trying to swallow the letter E is anyone’s guess.
Mary has a hard enough life, what with having to appear on the grilled cheese sandwiches, retaining walls, and turtle bellies of the faithful and doesn’t need me searching for a lame joke to make about her big day, so instead I’ll just note in passing that Mary is the patron saint of the United States. This seems a bit presumptuous of us Americans, taking Jesus’s mom as our patron, but what are we if not presumptuous?
December 11 marks the Feast of Pope St Damascus I, an important early pope who presided over Christianity during its transition from fringe cult to state religion. He’s the guy who put Jerome to work translating the Bible and oversaw the Council of Rome that fixed the Christian scriptural canon. For an early Christian there’s a fair amount known about him, leaving less room for interesting miracle stories in his vita. *Yawn*
So, moving right along, December 13 sees the Feast of St Lucy, also known as St. Lucia. According to the legend, Lucy was a Sicilian girl betrothed to a pagan, but chose to give her dowry to the poor and retain her virginity instead of getting married. The would-be groom was not impressed and turned her over to the Roman authorities, who sentenced her to be defiled in a brothel. When the soldiers came to take Lucy to the brothel, however, her body was as heavy as a mountain and she could not be moved. Annoyed, the Romans doused her with oil and set her on fire, but the she remained unburnt. So they stabbed her in the throat with a dagger, but she continued to preach and sing, ala St. Cecilia, even with a knife sticking out of her neck. Unwilling to leave it at that, her Roman captors gouged out her eyes. After her eyes were magically restored, the Romans gave up trying to be creative and just killed her.*
By the Julian calendar’s reckoning, St. Lucy’s Day marks the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. According to my Swedish former DGS, extremely traditional Scandinavians mark St. Lucia’s Day by having their eldest daughter serve them coffee and cake while wearing a candle-wreath on her head, but he had had quite a bit of holiday “glögg” and might have been putting me on.**
Predictably, the saint with the magically re-appearing eyes is the patron of the blind. And because of her unfortunate case of dagger-in-the-throat-itis, she’s also the patron of those with strep throat and other throat-related woes. The Sicilians venerate her because of her ancestry, and the Swedes because she is thought to have delivered the country from famine.
And there you have it, the saints for the first half of December. Check back in two weeks for the awfully crowded second half of the month.
*I’m not sure, but I think the moral of the story here is, “If at first you don’t succeed at killing a religious rabble-rouser, try, try again. And while you’re at it, try the less symbolic means of execution, because saints’ magic only protects them against ironic or overly-meaningful death.”
**Regardless, his Saint Lucia parties were always very pleasant and introduced me to the oddly delicious combination of blue cheese and gingersnaps. Try it, if you don’t believe me.