The Seventh Day of Christmas
December 31, 2012
The Martyrdom, site of the murder of St. Thomas
In 1170, on the Fifth Day of Christmas, four knights from the court of King Henry II burst into Canterbury Cathedral as the Archbishop was on his way to Vespers. Just inside the cloister door, they murdered Thomas Becket, whose defense of the rights of the Church had angered his onetime friend, the King. Within three years, Thomas was canonized, and the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was set to become one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims from all over Europe. In his play, "Murder in the Cathedral," T.S. Eliot reconstructs from historical sources the Archbishop's final sermon, preached in the cathedral on Christmas Day. It is a remarkable meditation on the meaning of Christmas, martyrdom, and the true meaning of "peace on earth." The Fifth Day of Christmas, the anniversary of Becket's death and his feast day, is an opportunity to reflect on the broader meaning of Christmas by reading the Archbishop's sermon. You can also sing your reflection with this hymn for the martyr's feast. The Becket Panel at Wymondham Abbey offers a visual meditation on the life of the Archbishop.
The red bill and legs of the chough are unique to this member of the crow family. In heraldry they are known as "beckits" and three choughs were found on the coat of arms of Archbishop Thomas. The chough was a popular symbol of his resistance to the King. In Britain today they are found only on the western side of the islands, but efforts are being made to restore them to Kent. An outdoor activity for this day might include ensuring that the bird feeder is full and spending some time watching the many varieties of birds that visit it. Twelve Days
This day has the additional title "Boxing Day", and it is a holiday in several countries. There are various explanations for this name, but they all boil down to the idea that this is a day to be generous to those who are less fortunate than yourself. The day celebrates the first person to give his life for the sake of Christ, St. Stephen, who was also one of the first deacons ordained to serve the poor. Archbishop Thomas Becket has something to say about him which you can read today, or save for the 29th. Another saint who is closely associated with this day is St. Wenceslas of Bohemia whose charity to the poor is remembered in John Mason Neale's wonderful carol. The day after Christmas is a particularly good day to put the fabled "spirit of giving" into practice. Take time today to perform an act of charity. If you make end-of-the-year gifts to charities, write the checks today. Remembering St. Stephen, as well as our Lord's own sacrifice, this would be a good day to give blood, if the donation center is open. Charity can take many forms. Whatever form yours takes, make sure to sing or whistle "Good King Wenceslaus" while you are doing it! St. Stephen's Day is a Prayer Book Holy Day, a day on which one should also participate in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. From: Twelve Days