Nicholas (d.c. 350) — An extremely popular saint, sometimes listed as Nicholas of Myra, best known for being a patron of children and most often called Santa Claus. Nicholas was certainly a historical person, serving in the fourth century as bishop of Myra, in Lycia, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), although he is best known in legend. One of the most famous traditions concerning him was how he saved three young women from prostitution by throwing bags of gold through their windows each night (the gold was for their dowries). From this beginning legend, stories about his charity circulated throughout the East.
Feast day: December 6
Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, holy day of obligation, solemnity.
Commemorates the fact that Mary, in view of her calling to be the Mother of Christ and in virtue of his merits, was preserved from the first moment of her conception from original sin and was filled with grace from the very beginning of her life. She was the only person so preserved from original sin. The present form of the feast dates from Dec. 8, 1854, when Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception An earlier feast of the Conception, which testified to long-existing belief in this truth, was observed in the East by the eighth century, in Ireland in the ninth, and subsequently in European countries. In 1846, Mary was proclaimed patroness of the U.S. under this title.
Feast day: December 8.
Saint Juan Diego
Juan Diego (d. sixteenth century) — Witness of Our Lady of Guadalupe who was given the extraordinary grace of a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, revered over the centuries as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan Diego is the baptismal name given to Cuauhtlatohuac, an Aztec or Chichimec by birth. He was walking on Tepeyac hill, now part of Mexico City, on December 9, 1531. There he heard music and saw a bright and beautiful light. Juan saw as well a beautiful woman in a striking garb, surrounded by golden rays. The woman spoke to him, directing him to have a church built on the hill in her honor.
Juan went to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, a Franciscan missionary prelate. The bishop received Juan but was unable to give his account of seeing the woman much credence, recommending that Juan speak to the woman again and ask for a sign. Juan, then fifty-five and a devout convert, readily agreed.
Juan's uncle, Bernardino, was ill with a fever, and he took care of the elderly man before seeking the miraculous vision again. Sensing that his uncle was about to die of the fever, Juan ran at dawn on Tuesday, December 12, to St. James Convent for a priest. The woman met him and asked why he had chosen this side route. Juan explained his uncle’s condition and was told by the woman that the uncle was cured.
The vision then identified herself as Our Lady of Guadalupe. She appeared as the Immaculate Conception, accompanied by the sun, moon, and stars. When Juan asked for a sign for the bishop, Our Lady told him to go to the nearby rocks and there gather the roses. Juan knew that such flowers were out of season, but he did what he was told and gathered the blossoms in the folds of his tilma: the long cloak made of maguey and worn by high-ranking Aztecs in many eras. Our Lady told Juan to keep the roses hidden there until he could give them to Bishop Zumárraga.
At the bishop’s residence, where he was again received by the prelate, Juan opened his tilma, and the roses fell onto the floor. The bishop and his attendants knelt suddenly, an act that startled Juan until he looked down and saw the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, exactly as she had appeared to him, imprinted on his tilma.
That image became a national treasure of Mexico instantly and then a holy object enshrined in Mexico City. Our Lady of Guadalupe’s shrine draws thousands of pilgrims today. Pope John Paul II beatified Juan Diego by confirming his cult on May 6, 1990, and canonized him on July 31, 2002.
Feast day: December 9
Lucy of Syracuse (d. 304) — Virgin martyr of Syracuse, Sicily, one of the most famous martyrs in the Church. She was of noble Roman blood and was arrested as a Christian during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). She was subjected to hideous torments, including burning and stabbing. She is invoked by sufferers of eye problems because her name means light, and because her eyes were put out by the command of a judge or torn out by her own hand to discourage a suitor for her hand. Her eyes were miraculously restored. Lucy is mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer. Her relics are preserved in Venice and were venerated by Blessed Pope John XXIII (r. 1958-1963) when he served as patriarch of Venice, prior to his election as pope. In liturgical art, she is often depicted holding her eyes on a plate.
Feast day: December 13
Saint John of the Cross
Like many great souls, St. John of the Cross was misunderstood and mistreated throughout his life. He lived from 1541-1591 and was a good friend of St. Teresa of Avila. Together they played a powerful role in the reform of the Carmelite order. At one time, he was unfairly imprisoned for nine months in a very small cell where the only light came from a window so high above that he had to stand on a stool to read. During this time John came upon many realizations about himself, and God, and life. One of his discoveries was that we are all imprisoned in different ways, even when, to all worldly appearances, we may seem to be free. The things that imprison us are not always obvious. He wrote, “A bird can be held by a chain or by a thread, still it cannot fly.” The major chains of life like unhealthy relationships and addiction are easy to recognize. But the threads of stubborn pride and self-centeredness are much more subtle. Chains or threads: We must all endeavor to discover what is it that is preventing us from flying in the way God wants us to. Indeed, He has created us to fly. John of the Cross was first and foremost a man of prayer. It is in the great classroom of silence that he sought to discover the chains and threads that were holding him back. Are you taking time each day in the classroom of silence to pray and reflect upon how God is calling you to change, grow and become the best version of yourself? Feast day: December 14
Christmas, Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Dec. 25, holy day of obligation, solemnity. Commemorates the birth of Christ (Lk. 2:1-20).
This event was originally commemorated in the East on the feast of Epiphany, or Theophany. The Christmas feast itself originated in the West; by 354 it was certainly kept on Dec. 25. This date may have been set for the observance to offset pagan ceremonies held at about the same time to commemorate the birth of the sun at the winter solstice. There are texts for three Christmas Masses at midnight, dawn, and during the day. Feast day: December 25
Saint Stephen the Deacon
Stephen the Deacon (d. first century) — Protomartyr for the Christian faith and one of the most revered of all martyrs. As Stephen’s name is obviously Greek, it has been postulated that he was a Hellenist, meaning he was one of the Jews born in a land distant from Palestine and who spoke Greek as a native language. Against this theory was the tradition begun in the fifth century that Stephen was a Greek equivalent of the Aramaic Kelil, perhaps Stephen’s original name, which was inscribed upon his tomb, found in 415. That Stephen had a Jewish origin is supported further by the list of the deacons in Acts (6:5), noting Nicolaus as a "proselyte of Antioch," making obvious the assumption that the other deacons were Jews.
Virtually nothing is known of his early life or his conversion. The first mention of him, in fact, occurs in Acts (6:5) when he was chosen as one of the seven deacons by the Apostles and ordained with the mission of laboring among the poor. Stephen focused his attentions on the Hellenist converts, and he proved a gifted, fiery preacher, described as being full of power and grace and performing miracles.
His martyrdom was recounted in Acts (6-7) and came about because of the prominent position he enjoyed as a preacher, which earned the enmity of members of the large Jewish community in Jerusalem. Brought before the Sanhedrin, he defended himself with passion and eloquence (Acts 7:2-53), but it did nothing to assuage his bitter foes. Dragged out of the city, he was stoned to death, according to Mosaic Law. The executioners placed their cloaks into the safeguarding of Saul, the future St. Paul, who "was consenting to his death" (8:1). Stephen’s dying words were: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (7:59), asking Christ’s forgiveness for his attackers. He was buried by "devout men" who "made a loud lament over him" (8:2). His long-forgotten tomb was discovered by Lucian, and a church was built in his honor outside the Damascus Gate by Empress Eudoxia (r. 455-460).
Feast day: December 26
John the Evangelist (d. first century) — Apostle, called “the Beloved Disciple,” and author of the fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. A Galilean, he was the son of Zebedee, brother of James the Greater, with whom he was called boanerges, meaning “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17). Originally a fisherman and probably a disciple of St. John the Baptist, he joined the Lord and became, with James and Peter, a member of the inner circle around Jesus.
He was present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5:37), the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1), and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:37). It is generally accepted that John was referring to himself when he wrote in the Gospel of the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” reclining on Our Lord’s bosom at the Last Supper (Jn 13:23). John also was entrusted with the care of Mary at the crucifixion (Jn 19:26); ran with Peter to the tomb after the Resurrection (Jn 20:2-8); and proclaimed to Peter, “It is the Lord!” when Christ revealed himself at Tiberias (Jn 21:7). In the Acts of the Apostles, John appeared at the Temple with Peter (3:1, 11), stood before the Sanhedrin (4:1-21), and was in Samaria (8:14). In Galatians (2:9), St. Paul described John, with Peter and James, as a “pillar” of the Church in Jerusalem.
According to tradition, John lived in Ephesus before being exiled to Patmos during the reign of Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96), “Because I proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus” (Rv 1:9). There he wrote the Book of Revelation, although some Bible experts believe it could have been written by a disciple of John’s instead of John himself. Returning to Ephesus under Emperor Nerva (r. 96-98), he wrote the Gospel and the three epistles attributed to him. He died apparently of old age, making him the only Apostle known with some certainty not to have died a martyr; however, some scholars point to the possibility that he died a martyr with St. James. In liturgical art, John’s symbol is the eagle.
Feast day: December 27
Commemorates the infants who suffered death at the hands of Herod’s soldiers seeking to kill the child Jesus (Mt. 2:13-18). A feast in their honor has been observed since the fifth century. Feast day: December 28
A movable observance on the Sunday after Christmas, feast. Commemorates the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as the model of domestic society, holiness and virtue. The devotional background of the feast was very strong in the 17th century. In the 18th century, in prayers composed for a special Mass, a Canadian bishop likened the Christian family to the Holy Family. Leo XIII consecrated families to the Holy Family. In 1921, Benedict XV extended the Divine Office and Mass of the feast to the whole Church.
Celebrated December 28, 2014
For further reading, check out The Saints Devotional Bible.