Category Archives: crochet

Christian Traditions 018: St. Joseph’s Day

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria makes no mention of this event.


St. Joseph’s Day is a feast day that commemorates the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. It is far more recent in origin than most major saints’ days, and gained popularity among Italian/Sicilian and Polish immigrants to the U.S., holding the same importance to them that St. Patrick’s Day does to the Irish.


Red. In Italian/Sicilian and Polish communities within the U.S., the wearing of red is as traditional on this day as is the wearing of green on St. Patrick’s Day. (See Footnote 1.)


Fava Bean. In the Middle Ages, legend holds that there was a severe drought in Sicily and that the people prayed that Joseph would send them rain, promising that in return, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain came, and the Sicilians prepared a feast in his honor and made him their patron saint. The crop which saved the population from starvation was the fava bean, and so the fava bean is now traditionally added to the St. Joseph’s Day meal.

Hollyhock. St. Joseph is also associated with the hollyhock, a flower from China which was introduced to the Holy Land by travelers on the Silk Road.

Carpentry Tools and Saw Dust. For obvious reasons.

19 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

St. Joseph’s Day is held 19 March every year; this year, that’s Thursday. If it falls on a Sunday other than Palm Sunday, it’s observed the next available day (usually Monday 20 March) unless another feast falls on that day. In 2006, an additional rule was added (and has been observed since 2008) that if St. Joseph’s Day falls within Holy Week (the week prior to Easter Sunday), it is moved to the closest possible day before 19 March, which is usually the Saturday before Holy Week. In Italy and Spain, 19 March is also Father’s Day.

stjosWHAT IS IT?

This event commemorates Joseph, the husband of Mary and, by extension, stepfather and foster father of Jesus. Because Joseph was given the responsibility to protect and care for Jesus (and Mary), he is considered the patron and protector of the entire Church. His day has been celebrated in the Western church since at least the 900s AD and was established in Rome by 1479 AD. Today, St. Joseph’s Day is a feast day. However, it was a solemnity until 1955 (see Footnote 2).

As we know from Scripture, Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3) who descended from Bethlehem. As told in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, Joseph was betrothed to Mary, and upon finding out she was pregnant, he decided to quietly divorce her so as not to make a spectacle of her or put her at risk of death as a punishment for adultery. However, an angel told Joseph that Mary was pregnant by the power of the Holy Ghost and that she carried the Messiah. Joseph then married her but did not sleep with her until after she had given birth to Jesus (Matthew 1:24-25). Because he was descended from Bethlehem, he had to take a very pregnant Mary with him to Bethlehem to be registered for taxes, wherein Jesus was born. Joseph also took Jesus and Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem for their ritual presentation and purification, respectively (see my post about Candlemas for more information). When King Herod sought to kill Jesus, Joseph took his family to Egypt under the command of an angel to wait until it was safe to return. After Herod died, Joseph again moved his family under the command of an angel, this time back to Israel. However, upon their arrival, he learned that Herod’s son, who was just as evil as Herod, now reigned in Israel, so—again, upon the instruction of God—he moved to Galilee and settled in a city called Nazareth. Joseph took his family to Jerusalem every year at the Passover and, the year Jesus was 12 years old, he and Mary discovered on their way back that they had accidentally left Him in Jerusalem. Although Joseph’s words to Jesus upon finding Him are not recorded (only Mary’s are), he was apparently just as worried as was Mary, according to her words, “…Son, why have you dealt with us this way? Your father and I sought you anxiously.” (Luke 2:48) If we are to take Mary’s words literally, it seems that Joseph considered himself as much Jesus’ father as Mary was His mother, and loved Him as his own child. Joseph and Mary had at least six other children after Jesus (see Footnote 3), but Joseph is not otherwise mentioned except as the father of Jesus (e.g., Matthew 13:55). The Scripture implies that Mary was a widow at the time of Jesus’ death (John 19:26-27), but the exact time of Joseph’s death is not mentioned. Although Scripture references to Joseph are few, we see a picture of him as a very merciful, understanding, and loving man; a man who put God first; a protector; and a good father and husband.

feastofstjosephpaintingBecause St. Joseph’s Day falls within Lent, the meals on this day are traditionally meatless. A food traditionally added to St. Joseph’s Day meals in Italy and Sicily or Italian and Sicilian communities is the fava bean, as discussed above regarding the legend of famine and salvation from starvation by fava bean. Because of this legend, it is also traditional to give food to the needy on this day. Foods are also traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since Joseph was a carpenter. Other foods traditionally eaten on this day include a Neapolitan pastry called zeppola/zeppole, Maccu di San Giuseppe (which is primarily maccu, a soup dating back to ancient times wherein fava beans are the primary ingredient), and Sfinge di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Cream Puffs).

Because New Orleans, Louisiana (USA) was a major port city for Sicilian immigrants in the late 1800s, St. Joseph’s Day is an important event in the city. As in other countries, an altar is often prepared in honor of the saint, where the people of the church contribute food items like a potluck. However, the food from the altars in New Orleans is generally given to charity after the altar is dismantled—that is, the churchgoers don’t eat it—in contrast to most other locales, where the churchgoers eat the meal together. The altar or table is decorated with many symbolic items, such as carpentry tools. After the eating is done, the altar is smashed and three children dressed as the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary, and Jesus) perform a re-enactment called “Tupa, Tupa” (“Knock, Knock”). In this re-enactment, the three children go knocking on three doors asking for shelter. They are refused at the first two and welcomed at the third. This re-enactment is held in commemoration of the Holy Family’s seeking hospitality in Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth. At the end of the day, participants take home a bag filled with various gifts (bread, fruit, pastries, cookies, a blessed fava bean, a medal of St. Joseph, etc.).

Another tradition is for children to give gifts to their fathers on this day.


Another event commemorating Joseph, Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, occurs on 1 May. It is discussed in Footnote 1. Because it is such a minor observance, I don’t think there will be a blog post on it.


Most of the traditional activities involve food.

  • Readings. Read the story of Joseph in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.
  • Fashion (Recent Traditional). Wear red.
  • Food (Traditional). Several traditional recipes can be found at Fish Eaters. In general, any Italian/Sicilian food and some Polish foods are traditional for St. Joseph’s Day.
  • Joseph’s Table (Traditional). As discussed above, both churches and private homes would set up a table with various traditional foods and have a feast. In some churches, the food would be donated to charity, though most churches ate the food as a potluck. Traditional décor for the table included symbols associated with Joseph (such as carpentry tools and a statue of Joseph). You may do this at home or host a potluck in your church. The following prayer said over St. Joseph’s Table is traditional. It’s a little Catholic (it refers to a saint praying for us, which is not supported by Scripture), but you may adapt it if you are Evangelical.
    • “All-provident God, the good things that grace this table remind us of Your many good gifts. Bless this food, and may the prayers of St. Joseph who provided bread for Your Son and good for the poor sustain us and all our brothers and sisters on our journey toward Your heavenly kingdom. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
  • Skit (Traditional). The “Tupa, Tupa” skit, described above, is traditionally performed in church by three children dressed as Joseph, Mary, and Jesus on this day. If you have children in your family, small group, or church, consider re-enacting this skit.
  • Charity (Traditional). As discussed above, it is traditional on this day to donate food to charity. You may consider donated canned goods to the local charitable food pantry or even hosting a dinner for the homeless at your church.
  • Goody Bag (Recent Traditional). As discussed above, when the church celebrates St. Joseph’s Day with a potluck dinner, after the event, participants take home a bag filled with various gifts (bread, fruit, pastries, cookies, a blessed fava bean, a medal of St. Joseph, etc.). If you are celebrating in a family with children or in a small group or church setting, consider creating goody bags.


You may create any of the items traditionally associated with Joseph. As discussed above, these include the fava bean (which looks like a string bean in the pod or just a plain green-colored bean out of the pod), the hollyhock flower, or carpentry tools. Most of these patterns will have to be significantly adjusted for size.

  • Knitting Patterns.
    • “Tiny Bean” by Tokkyu2222 (here) (note: knit it in green, like the fava bean)
    • “Stuffed String Beans” by Kim Engelmann (here) (note: although these are technically string beans, they have the appearance of a fava bean in the pod)
  • Crochet Patterns.
    • “Green Bean Amigurumi” by Jessica Evans (here) (note: although this is technically a green bean, it has the same appearance of a fava bean in the pod)
    • “Glam up Your Hexipuff – Hollyhock” by minja (here) (note: this pattern will have to be significantly altered for size if you do only the flower)
    • “Hammer” by Myshelle Cole (here)





Footnote 1: Red as the Color of St. Joseph’s Day. In my research on this topic, I mostly found people asking the same question—“why do Italians [or Polish] wear red on St. Joseph’s Day?”—and others trying to answer but not fully answering the question.

One explanation seemed to be a slight confusion of the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker with St. Joseph’s Day. The best I could piece together was that 1 May was the national holiday of the Communist Party in Italy, called “May Day” or “Festa Del Lavoro” (basically, “Labor Day”). On this day, some people wore red for communism. However, Pope Pius XII added a celebration of “San Giuseppe Lavoratore” (“St. Joseph the Worker”) on the same day in 1955. His stated reason for doing so was to accentuate the dignity of labor and to bring a spiritual dimension to labor unions, which is completely contrary to others’ claims that he created the observance to contrast communism. In fact, previous popes (most notably Pope Leo XIII in 1891 and Pope Pius XI in 1931) specifically decried harsh conditions in the industrial workplace and exploitation of workers. I could not find information on how red came to be associated with the 19 March commemoration of St. Joseph’s Day in accordance with this explanation—in fact, when giving this explanation, the authors usually falsely claim that Italians and Polish do not wear red on St. Joseph’s Day at all—so I think it may not be the true reason for the association of red with St. Joseph’s Day (19 March), though it offers a good explanation for the association of red with the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker (1 May).

Another explanation for the association of red with St. Joseph’s Day (19 March) that makes more sense to me involves the interplay of Italian and Polish immigrants to America with the more established Irish Catholic immigrants in the 1890s-1930s. The Italian and Polish immigrants found themselves in a new land where Catholic dioceses were mostly run by Irish immigrants and people of Irish descent, who looked down on Southern and Eastern European Catholics. The Italians and Polish felt unwelcome and judged, and mostly ended up creating their own culturally-specific parishes and religious societies. In Chicago, the two groups expressed their disagreement most vividly. In this city, St. Patrick’s Day (17 March) was very visibly celebrated with such demonstrations as a massive parade and turning the Chicago River green. In multi-ethnic Catholic schools, kids of Irish heritage demonstrated their Irish pride with “the wearing of the green” on this day. Therefore, probably mostly if not entirely in reaction to St. Patrick’s Day, St. Joseph’s Day (19 March, just two days after St. Patrick’s Day) became more important to the Polish and Italian communities. Both national flags of Poland and Italy have red, which contrasts very sharply to the Irish green, and so Polish and Italian Americans took this day to celebrate their patron saint and their cultural heritages with “the wearing of the red,” especially among kids in Catholic schools. Simultaneously, many Polish traditions were adopted by the Italians, and many Sicilian and Italian traditions were adopted by the Polish. Eventually, many of these Italian/Sicilian and Polish traditions were adopted by the Catholic Church of Chicago as a whole. You can read the historical account plus some traditional activities for this day here.

Footnote 2: St. Joseph’s Day as a Solemnity. This day was once considered a solemnity, which is the highest ranking level of liturgical commemoration and commemorates an event in the life of Jesus or Mary or celebrates a saint who is important to all Christianity or to a local community. (That is, a celebration of a particular saint may be a memorial or a feast in the world in general but a solemnity in the area for which that saint was especially important, such as Saint Patrick’s Day, which is a feast day around the world but a solemnity in Ireland.) For examples Evangelicals would understand, other solemnities include Christmas and Easter. When a solemnity falls on a Sunday (except in Advent, Lent, or Eastertide), it supersedes the Sunday itself—that is, it is celebrated in place of the Sunday. However, because St. Joseph’s Day falls within Lent, if it fell on a Sunday, it would be moved to another day.

Footnote 3: Joseph and Mary’s Other Children. In other places in Scripture, we find that Jesus had siblings, presumably younger siblings (since older siblings are not mentioned in the accounts of His birth) who were therefore the children of Joseph and Mary. For example, in Mark 6:3 (and also Matthew 13:55-56), the people in the synagogue who heard Him preaching questioned, “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joseph, and of Jude, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?…” (In Matthew 13:55, He is referred to as “the son of the carpenter.”) This demonstrates that Joseph and Mary had at least six children after Jesus, the four sons named in this verse plus at least two sisters. Other passages also refer in passing to His siblings, only once more by name (see Mark 3:31-35, John 7:3-10, Acts 1:14, and Galatians 1:19). Further evidence in support of this idea is that the oldest son is given the father’s name where later sons may get the grandfather’s name; however, the oldest of Jesus’ four brothers is named James, after his grandfather (Joseph’s father), rather than being named after his father (Joseph), as was typical for firstborn sons.

The word used to describe Jesus’ siblings is adelphos, which originally comes from a-delphys (“of the same womb”) but came to mean people born to the same parents, extended family, and brethren in the wider sense of a community. Nevertheless, the earliest scholars (and many modern scholars as well) agreed that the most natural inference is that they were the children of Mary and Joseph born after Jesus, and this view was accepted by Christian writers from as early as the first and second centuries. In fact, the Greek word adelphos (“brother,” as described above) is distinct from the Greek word for “cousin” (anepsios), and both were used carefully by a second-century Christian writer named Hegesippus to distinguish between Jesus’ cousins and His brothers.

However, beginning in the 3rd century, a new doctrine arose suggesting that Mary was always a virgin (contrary to Matthew 1:24-25, which says Joseph didn’t have sex with her until after Jesus was born—in other words, pretty plainly stating that they started having sex after Jesus’ birth), and if true, that would make it impossible for Mary to have had other children. Therefore, certain groups (primarily the Catholic Church and a few Protestant churches) which hold to the theological construct of Sacred Tradition (see my earlier post on that topic) reject the possibility that these children were Joseph and Mary’s natural children and engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics to explain where they came from, most often insisting that they were His cousins (a view, as described above, that was very specifically rejected by the earliest Christian scholars) or that they were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage (which, as stated above, does not explain why this rather large family of six children was not mentioned at all in the records of the events surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth).


Christian Traditions 016: Laetare Sunday

Von Trapp Follow-Along: As stated in the previous blog post, Maria makes almost no mention of this period.


Laetare Sunday, also known as Rose Sunday, is a joyful interruption to the solemnity of Lent and is characterized by celebration with flowers, rose-colored vestments, and music. Also known as Mothering Sunday, it is the precursor to our modern Mother’s Day.


Rose. The color of Lenten penance is violet while the color of feast days is white. Rose-pink is the color of this day allegedly because it’s the mixture of violet and white. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you are probably saying, “But the mixture of violet and white produces lavender, not pink!” Yeah, I agree…


Roses especially, but flowers of any kind generally.

15 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

Laetare Sunday occurs on the fourth Sunday of Lent, which may be anywhere from 1 March to 4 April. This year, Laetare Sunday falls on 15 March.

Because this day occurs about halfway through Lent, Easter is finally in sight. That is, if you picture Lent as a hill, where Ash Wednesday is the bottom of one side of the hill and Easter Sunday is the bottom of the other side of the hill, Laetare Sunday marks the time when you are at the top of the hill and can finally see Easter. Technically, the exact middle of Lent is the Thursday prior to Laetare Sunday, and it was originally commemorated as such, but at some point the commemorative practices of the day were switched to the Sunday following the middle day of Lent.

image004WHAT IS IT?

For the first six or seven centuries, Lent started on the Sunday following Quinquagesima Sunday (now called Quadragesima Sunday), which meant Lent lasted only 36 days. By 714 AD, an additional four days were added to make the number 40 days, so that Lent started on the Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, now known as Ash Wednesday. When the start of Lent and its accompanying traditions were moved to Ash Wednesday, the middle day of Lent became the Thursday before the fourth Sunday. As mentioned above, it was celebrated as such for a while, but the practices were moved to the Sunday following that Thursday, which became known as Laetare Sunday. I couldn’t find information on when Christians began celebrating on the fourth Sunday as opposed to the true middle day (Thursday) and therefore also could not find information on when it came to be known as “Laetare Sunday.”

Laetare Sunday acts as a joyful interruption to the solemnity of Lent. “Laetare” means “Rejoice” and comes from the first line of the introit said on this day, which is “Laetare Jerusalem” (“Rejoice, Jerusalem” or “O be joyful, Jerusalem,” which is taken from Isaiah 66:10). It is also known as Rose Sunday (discussed below), Refreshment Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday, and Mothering Sunday (discussed below). It is also called the Five Loaves Sunday in honor of the miracle found in the Gospel reading for this day (John 6:1-15).

On Laetare Sunday, priests may optionally change their vestments from Lenten violet to rose, the church is decorated with flowers, and an organ accompaniment to singing or chanting is permitted. Also on this day, the Pope blesses the church, that it would “bring forth the fruit of good works and ‘the perfume of the ointment of the flowers from the root of Jesse.’ ” Furthermore, most things normally banned in Lent (such as meat at meals and wedding celebrations) are permitted on this day.

papal_golden_roseRose Sunday. In either 716 AD under St. Gregory II or in 740 AD under St. Gregory III, the custom of sending Catholic rulers the Golden Keys from St. Peter’s Confessional once per year was introduced. However, the tradition switched from golden keys to a golden rose at least by 1050 AD (and possibly as early as Charlemagne [742-814]), with the first record of the rose from the words of Pope Leo IX in 1051 AD. This Sunday marked the day the pope would bless the golden rose and give it to Catholic sovereigns, distinguished persons, governments or cities notable for Catholic spirit and loyalty to the Holy See, or illustrious churches and sanctuaries. Hence the alternate name for this day, Rose Sunday. The golden rose may occasionally have been used as a bribe, one example being when the pope gave the rose to Elector Frederick the Wise in an attempt to curry favor with him so as to have him extradite Martin Luther out of his lands and into lands where he could be tried and burned at the stake. The golden rose has come to symbolize Christ’s Kingly Majesty and references Solomon 2:1-7, where the shepherd/king (the Messiah) refers to himself as the rose of the field and the lily of the valleys (see Footnote 1).

Mothering Sunday. On Laetare Sunday, people in ancient times would visit the cathedral (the “mother church”), inspired by Galatians 4:6, which refers to Jerusalem as our mother (and also allegedly in reference to our right to be called sons of God as the source of all our joy). Later, beginning in England but spreading all over Europe, children living away from home took this day to return home to visit their mothers and give them a gift. This was the precursor to our modern Mother’s Day. On this day, mothers allegedly baked a special cake using equal parts sugar and flour called Simnel Cake in expectation of their visiting children. The recipe is in Maria Von Trapp’s book.


Similarly to Laetare Sunday, Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) is a day on which priests may wear rose (or in Anglican and some Lutheran churches, blue) instead of violet. Also similarly to Laetare Sunday, the readings on and focus of Gaudete Sunday switch from solemn penance to a brief respite of celebration and the first word of the day’s introit (“Gaudete”), from which the day gets its name, means “Rejoice.” Although both “laetare” or “laetitia” and “gaudere” in Latin are translated “rejoice” in English, the prior (“laetare”) means to rejoice manifestly (that is, openly) while the latter (“gaudere”) means to rejoice internally.


There are many traditional activities for this day. Many of them are specifically related to the church, but you can easily adapt them to your own home.

  • Readings (Traditional). The Scripture readings for this day include the introit said on this day.
    • John 6:1-15 (which tells the account of the miracle from which this Sunday gets the name Five Loaves Sunday)
    • Galatians 4:22-31 (which tells of how Christians are sons of God and from which this Sunday allegedly gets the name Mothering Sunday)
    • Isaiah 66:10-11 and Psalm 122:1-2, 6, 8, with their accompanying introit, from which this Sunday gets the name Laetare Sunday: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. Psalm: I rejoiced when they said to me: ‘we shall go into God’s House!’ ”
  • Decoration (Traditional). If you have décor in your home or small group meeting place indicating the liturgical colors, switch from Lenten violet to Laetare rose for this day only, and change back to violet on Monday.
  • Decoration (Traditional). Add flowers to the décor in your home or small group meeting place, especially roses if possible.
  • Food (Traditional). Bake a Simnel cake! This cake was traditionally baked by mothers in anticipation of their visiting children. Two locations where you can find the recipe:
    • Maria Von Trapp’s book
    • Fish Eaters blog
  • Food (Traditional). On this day, the typical Lenten fast is broken. Families may choose to eat an Easter-like feast with flowers on the table to commemorate the joyfulness of the day.
  • Gardening. Plant a rose bush on this day. You don’t have to plant it in your own yard. You may choose to plant one as a gift for someone in need.
  • Mother’s Visit (Traditional). Traditionally, people took this day to visit their “mother church,” the church where they were baptized, and to visit their mothers.


For Laetare Sunday, or Rose Sunday, we will craft a rose.

  • Knitting Patterns. You may knit a very 3D somewhat closed rose bud with or without a stem, or a relatively flat, open rose. Unfortunately, none of the below patterns give a finished size, so I can’t vouch for the sizes.
    • Closed Rose Buds. “Rose” by Jessica Goddard (here) OR “Rose” by Libby Summers (here) OR “Knitted Rose” by Lesley Arnold-Hopkins (here)
    • Flat, Open Roses. “Rose” by Kim Haesemeyer (here) OR “Rose Corsage” by Alison Hogg (here) OR “Rose” by Lesley Stanfield (here)
  • Crochet Patterns.
    • Closed Rose Buds. “Roses by Sandra Ahlberg (here) OR “Valentine’s Roses” by Crochetqueen (here) OR “Simple and Beautiful Rose with Stem” by Maggie McGhee (here)
    • Semi-Open Rose Buds. “Realistic Rose” by Lisa W. (here)
    • Flat, Open Roses. “Rose” by Rachel Choi (here) OR “Rose Ring” by Janette Williams (here) OR “Rose and leaf” by Annemaries Haakblog (here)





Footnote 1: Messiah as Rose of the Field and Lily of the Valley. I stated above that in Song of Solomon 2:1-7, the shepherd/king (who is understood to symbolize the Messiah) refers to himself as the rose of the field and the lily of the valleys. Earlier Christian scholars considered this to be the proper interpretation of the passage, which is how this passage came to have this meaning for Rose Sunday. However, it should be noted that later scholars consider it to be the woman who is speaking in verse 1, not the shepherd/king. For this reason, the femininely modest and less definite “A rose of Sharon… A lily of the valleys” is used in place of the more definite, kingly “THE rose of Sharon… THE lily of the valleys” in some versions of the Bible. Nevertheless, the Messiah is referred to as a rose or flower that springs up from the line of Jesse (father of King David) in Isaiah 11:1, so the rose of Rose Sunday can still be understood to represent the Messiah.

Christian Traditions 014: Ember Weeks

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria writes one paragraph about this under “EMBER DAYS” toward the end of her book. She describes it as thoroughly Catholic, a day on which the parents explain to their kids the sacraments, the Catholic priesthood and pope, and even have the children participate in priestly ordination ceremonies that take place on these days.


There are four Ember Weeks roughly equidistant from each other throughout the year. This will be the first Ember Week for this year, or the second for the liturgical year (recall that the liturgical year starts in November). They roughly coincide with the four seasons, and so can be seen as periods of prayer and fasting for each season.


The Ember Weeks occur (Winter) between the third and fourth Sundays of Advent, (Spring) between the first and second Sundays of Lent, (Summer) between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, and (Autumn) starting the Sunday after Holy Cross Day. Advent moves no more than a week, ranging from 27 November to 3 December, and Holy Cross Day is an immoveable feast, always occurring on 14 September, so the Winter and Autumn Ember Weeks don’t move around much. However, because the “Spring” and Summer Ember Weeks are indirectly connected to Easter, they move quite a bit. The Summer Ember Week still occurs in the summer regardless of the date of Easter, but the “Spring” Ember Week may actually occur in winter. In fact, that is the case this year, where the “Spring” Ember Week occurs at the end of February.

The only Ember Days of any Ember Week are Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. For the year 2015, the “Spring” Ember Week is 22 February to 1 March (Ember Days are 25, 27, and 28 February), the “Summer” Ember Week is 24 May to 31 May (Ember Days are 27, 29, and 30 May), the “Autumn” Ember Week is 20 to 27 September (Ember Days are 23, 25, and 26 September), and the “Winter” Ember Week is 20-27 December (Ember Days are 23, 25, and 26 December).

Some Protestant and small Catholic churches observe Ember Weeks at different times of the year and some Protestant churches don’t observe them at all.

seasonal-cyclesWHAT IS IT?

The term “Ember” either comes from Anglo-Saxon ymbren, meaning a circuit or revolution, referring to the cycle of the year, or from Latin quatuor tempora, meaning “four times” (per year). Ember Weeks have been observed since possibly the early 200s AD or even since the time of the Apostles in the first century. Initially, there were only three Ember Weeks (in June, September, and December), but by the mid-300s AD to late-400s AD, a fourth had been added. Because of the early date of their adoption, the idea that they were based on pagan practices is uneducated at best, though they may have changed over time to add pagan practices to an already-existing Christian practice. (See Footnote 1.) In modern Christian practice, Ember Days are considered major ferias (a “feria” is a weekday that has special meaning, like Ash Wednesday), which means they must have at least a commemoration, even on the highest feasts. However, they don’t necessarily have to be observed if they occur on the same day as a feast. In other words, the fasting of an Ember Day is not necessarily observed when it falls on a major feast such as Christmas—as it will this year.

By the mid-400s AD, they were called the jejunium vernum (Spring), aestivum (Summer), autumnale (Autumn), and hiemale (Winter) so that these periods of abstinence would apply to all four seasons. Although it’s not certain when or why the fourth was added, it has been proposed that the three original fasts preparatory to the three great festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost required the addition of a fourth purely for the sake of symmetry—or, as Pope Leo put it, so that it would touch every season of the year. However, I find fault with this idea because these fasts are allegedly prior to Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, but the first observance (June) could never be prior to Easter and probably never prior to Pentecost, while the second observance (September) is not calendrically related to anything. Nevertheless, the practice of fasting four times a year is also an Old Testament practice, as outlined in Zachariah 8:19. The fast days occur on Wednesday (the day Jesus was betrayed), Friday (the day He was crucified), and Saturday (the day He was entombed). (In reality, He was buried Wednesday and resurrected Saturday; see Footnote 2.) Saturdays on Ember Weeks (except the in the Summer Ember Week) are also reserved for reading the story of God’s rescue of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).

The observance of Ember Weeks spread gradually and sporadically through the Western Church. It seems to have been adopted in Britain by late-500s AD, in Gaul (France) by the 700s AD, in Spain by the 1000s AD, and in Milan in the 1500s AD. However, it did not spread much if at all in the Eastern Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church has never observed Ember Days.

Once upon a time, the Ember Weeks were set to specific dates, such as the first week of March, but that changed in 1095 to something closer to what we have now, and changed again several more times throughout the centuries. When Pope Urban II made the changes in 1095, the changes came with a mnemonic to remember the dates: “Fasting dates and Emberings be / Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.” This referred to the first Sunday of Lent, Pentecost (a.k.a. Whitsunday, hence “Whitsun”), Holy Cross Day on 14 September (“Holyrood”), and the Feast of St. Lucy on 13 December (“Lucie”). More modern (but non-rhyming) mnemonics are “Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, / are when the quarter holidays follow.” and “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.”

Ember Days were reserved for fasting, prayer, “to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.” (Reference.) This references Genesis 1:28-30, where God gives Adam and Eve the task of caring for the earth, and Psalm 8. Because these days focus on nature, they were traditional dates for women to pray for children or for safe deliveries. The weather on each of these dates were also considered to predict the weather of an entire month. The “fasting” referenced above involved eating one full meal plus two partial, meatless meals per day on Ember Days (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) of the Ember Week. Christians were also encouraged but not required to observe the sacrament of penance (i.e., go to Confession) on these days as well. These days also came to be thought of as fortuitous days for ordination of the priests by the late 400s AD. In 1085, it was established as a law of the Catholic Church that ordination could only occur on these days.

The Spring Ember Week, which occurs during Lent, purposes to remind us to cast off vices so that “the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us” as plants grow in the spring. Since spring also symbolizes infancy, this Ember Week reminds us to be innocent as infants. The Summer Ember Week, which occurs after Pentecost (when we commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit given to Christians), reminds us to be fervent and inflamed with the love of the Holy Spirit. Because summer also symbolizes youth, this Ember Week reminds us “to be young by virtue and constancy.” The Autumn Ember Week reminds us to “render to God the fruits of good works” in the same way that farmers harvest the fruits of their labors in autumn. Because autumn also symbolizes maturity and virtue, this Ember Week reminds us to “be ripe by attemperance.” Finally, the Winter Ember Week reminds us to die to the world in the same way that plants die in winter. Because winter also symbolizes old age, this Ember Week reminds us to “be ancient and old by prudence and honest life.” (From Reference.)


There are a few traditional activities potentially dating as far back as the time of the apostles in the first century AD, but most are much more recent in origin.

  • (Traditional) Readings. The readings generally differ according to the season in which the Ember Week occurs.
    • Winter (Advent) Ember Week: General (Psalm 147:12, 16-17), Wednesday (Luke 1:26-28), Friday (Luke 1:37-47), and Saturday (Luke 3:1-6).
    • Spring (Lenten) Ember Week: General (Isaiah 61:11), Wednesday (Matthew 12:38-50), Friday (John 5:1-5), and Saturday (Matthew 17:1-9).
    • Summer (Whit) Ember Week: General (Proverbs 6:6-8), Wednesday (John 6:44-52), Friday (Luke 5:17-26), and Saturday (Luke 4:38-44).
    • Autumn (Michaelmas) Ember Week: General (Psalm 144:15-16), Wednesday (Matthew 9:16-28), Friday (Luke 7:36-50), and Saturday (Luke 13:6-17).
  • Décor, Science, and Artwork. For yourself, your kids, or your church small group, decorate or dress, research science (for kids, try visiting the library for kids’ science books such as NatGeo Kids books and magazines; consider both seasonal and astronomical changes that occur this time of year), and/or do artwork relative to the symbolism of each Ember Week.
    • Winter Ember Week: Wet and cold weather, golden years of old age, humour of phlegm, phlegmatic temperament, element of water. Some ideas can be found here.
    • Spring Ember Week: Wet and hot weather, childhood, humour of blood, sanguine temperament, element of air. Some ideas can be found here.
    • Summer Ember Week: Dry and hot weather, youth, humor of yellow bile, choleric temperament, and element of fire. Some ideas can be found here.
    • Autumn Ember Week: Dry and cold weather, maturity, humour of black bile, melancholic temperament, and element of earth. Some ideas can be found here.
  • Observe the Weather. Like Groundhog Day, the Ember Days are supposed to predict future weather. We all know Groundhog Day is not at all reliable as a predictor of weather, but it’s still fun to note what the groundhog did and what the weather is supposed to be like. For fun, you can treat the Ember Days the same way. The weather conditions of each day of the Ember Week is supposed to foretell the weather for the coming three months.
    • Winter Ember Week: Wednesday predicts January, Friday predicts February, and Saturday predicts March.
    • Spring Ember Week: Wednesday predicts April, Friday predicts May, and Saturday predicts June.
    • Summer Ember Week: Wednesday predicts July, Friday predicts August, and Saturday predicts September.
    • Autumn Ember Week: Wednesday predicts October, Friday predicts November, and Saturday predicts December.
  • (Traditional) Prayer. Generally, the prayer focuses on thankfulness for the gifts of nature—kind of like a quarterly Thanksgiving. Pray to thank God for His gifts, that He would teach you to use His gifts in moderation, and that He would show you how to share the gifts He gave you with those in need. Some specific prayers can be found here.


Because each Ember Week is associated with an element, I thought that would be the best way to represent the Ember Weeks.

  • Knitting Patterns:
    • Winter (Water): Can you recommend a 3D water droplet pattern suitable as an ornament?
    • Spring (Air): Can you recommend a 3D swirl pattern suitable as an ornament?
    • Summer (Fire): “Blue Flame Special” by Elisha Sanders (here) or “Hermione’s Crafty Fire” by Natalie Scrimshire (here).
    • Autumn (Earth): “Knitted Sphere Tutorial” by Katherine Challis (here). (Note: in brown yarn, knit a simple sphere.)
  • Crochet Patterns:
    • Winter (Water): “Wendy the Water Drop” by Smeddley (here) or “Amigurumi pattern water spirit free pattern” by The Sun and the Turtle (here).
    • Spring (Air): “Swirl” by Victoria Belvet (here). (Note: the simplest air element symbols are simply one swirl alone or three swirls connected to each other. Make the one you prefer.)
    • Summer (Fire): Can you recommend a 3D flame or fire pattern suitable as an ornament?
    • Autumn (Earth): “How to Crochet a Sphere” by Rachel Choi (here). (Note: in brown yarn, knit a simple sphere.)





Footnote 1: Pagan Origins. Some say that because there are four Ember Weeks dedicated to prayer and fasting spaced relatively evenly—close to three months apart—throughout the year, the early Christians must have stolen the commemoration from pagan festivals that occurred on three-month intervals. However, Ember Weeks (of which there were originally only three, not four) date back to at least 150 years before Christianity became legal, and prior to legality, Christians were notorious for rejecting anything and everything even slightly pagan (in fact, they originally refused to commemorate Jesus’ birth because, as was stated in 1st and 2nd century Christian writings, birthday celebrations were a distinctly pagan practice) to the point that the Apostle Paul had to dedicate a significant part of a letter to one of the early churches explaining that eating foods that had been “blessed” by pagan gods was not sinful, but that if it offended others, they should abstain (see I Corinthians 8, 11:27-33). Therefore, the idea that Ember Weeks are coopted pagan holidays is at best an uneducated opinion.

However, it should be noted that the Church did coopt other pagan holidays and pagan practices after Christianity became legal. This may initially have had partly to do with the fact that Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity made the religion both popular and politically expedient, and so many people probably “converted” in name but not in heart or in practice and brought with them both their pagan beliefs and their indifference to Christian theology. Although Constantine enforced Christian doctrine and punished heresy, it’s possible that any pagans remaining in the Church made their pagan practices public after his death in 337 AD. They would have seen nothing wrong with this since the Roman religion was largely adopted from the Greek religion. However, there is at least one letter dating to the Middle Ages written from one priest to another wherein the author encourages the recipient to turn pagan temples into Christian churches rather than destroying them and to adapt pagan celebrations into “Christian” celebrations rather than forbidding them. So we know that pagan practices entered the church in “Christianized” form at least by the Middle Ages but probably as early as Constantine’s death. However, they most certainly did not enter the church before Constantine’s conversion and favoring of Christians in 312-314 AD and almost definitely did not enter the Church before Constantine’s death in 337 AD, so any observance that was in place by then would not have been based on pagan holidays, even if they later added practices similar to pagan practices to those observances. See my post on Co-Opted Christian Holidays for more information.

Christian observances with pagan or possibly-pagan elements were not necessarily based on pagan practices. (In fact, in some cases, they were based on much older Jewish practices.) Some Christian observances dating to post-Constantine may have been based on pagan events, whereas other Christian observances were based on Jewish practices, Christian practices, or Jewish or Christian events. Some elements of these events may have been adopted from pagan practices, but many were not. In the case of Ember Weeks, because of the early date at which they came into being, it’s more likely that they were uniquely Christian practices that happened to be similar to other Jewish and pagan three-month-interval practices than that they were adopted from a pagan practice.

Footnote 2. Friday death, Saturday entombment, and Sunday resurrection. For reasons I will explain in detail in a series of posts on the topic coming in late February and early March, we know quite definitively that Jesus actually died on a Wednesday afternoon, was buried Wednesday late afternoon just before sunset, and resurrected on Saturday either right before or right after sunset. Therefore, the Ember Week days (Friday for His death and Saturday for His burial) should be seen entirely as symbolic, not as historically accurate. The same is true for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. I will share the link to those posts here when they are published. Stay tuned.

Christian Traditions 002: Feast of the Confession of Peter

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria makes no mention of this feast.


Most blog posts in this series will describe a special event the day before it is to occur. However, the Feast of the Confession of Peter and the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity fall on the same day: January 18. After going back and forth on whether to write one blog post or two, I decided one blog post would be too long. So here’s one on the Feast of the Confession of Peter. Tomorrow, I’ll post one on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

18 January 2015WHEN IS IT?

The history of this feast is that two liturgical feasts (18 January and 22 February) were celebrated in Rome commemorating chairs associated with the Apostle Peter (specifically with his stays in Rome and Antioch, respectively) hundreds of years before the present “Chair of Peter” relic was created. In 1960, Pope John XXII removed the 18 January feast from the General Roman Catholic calendar and demoted the 22 February feast to a less-important “Second-Class” Feast. In 1969, the 22 February feast was relisted as Feast rather than Second-Class Feast. Other traditionalist Catholics continue to celebrate “Saint Peter’s Chair at Rome” on 18 January and “Chair of Saint Peter at Antioch” on 22 February. Some Anglican and Lutheran churches celebrate the Feast of the Confession of Peter on 18 January as an alternative to celebrating a relic or the papacy. I could find no information on when or how these denominations came to celebrate this feast in this way.

confession of peterWHAT IS IT?

The original Catholic commemoration was of the Chair of the Apostle Peter, a relic, not his Confession, a Biblical event. However, Orthodox, Protestants, and Evangelicals generally (and even some Catholic groups specifically) do not venerate relics or believe in them, and so commemoration of a relic would be pretty specific to some Catholics. (See Footnote 1 at the end of this post on relics for more information on why Protestants and Evangelicals do not venerate or believe in relics.)

The “Chair of Peter” is symbolic of the papacy because Catholics consider Peter to have been the first pope, so for Catholics, this feast celebrates not only Peter but also the papacy. The actual “relic” chair of Peter was commissioned by Charles the Bald and gifted to Pope John VIII in 875 AD. A sculpted bronze casing designed by Bernini and constructed between 1647 and 1653 now encases the chair, and it sits in St. Peter’s Basilica, a church in Vatican City.

The Protestant version of the feast commemorates not an item of questionable worth but a significant event in Peter’s life: his confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The story (as found in Matthew 16:13-19, Mark 8:27-29, and Luke 9:18-20) takes place after Herod and others speculated that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist (whom Herod had recently beheaded), the prophet Elijah, the prophet Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets (recounted in Mark 6:14-16 and Luke 9:7-9); and immediately after Jesus fed 4,000 people following him with seven loaves of bread and a few fish (recounted in Matthew 15:32-38 and Mark 8:1-9, and briefly referenced in Matthew 16:10 and Mark 8:20). After traveling a bit, Jesus asked His disciples who people thought He was. The disciples repeated the theories posited by Herod and others, as described above. Then Jesus poses to them this question: “But whom do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, Mark 8:29, and Luke 9:20) Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16; see also Mark 8:29 and Luke 9:20) In all three Gospel accounts, Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone. However, in the Gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus first responds directly to Peter’s confession, blessing him, stating that God and not people revealed it to him, and goes on to say that He will build His church on Peter: “…thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18)

The Catholic Church takes this event as the founding of the papacy (office of the pope) and states that Peter was the first pope. They further take the statement that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” as indicating papal infallibility (meaning the pope cannot be wrong, which makes for interesting conversations when one pope contradicts another). Protestants and most Evangelicals, on the other hand, believe this verse means that Peter was the foundation stone of the Church but do not believe it infers a lineage of popes. Furthermore, they take the statement “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” to refer to the Church, not an individual, and believe it to mean that the Church will never become extinct. Orthodox churches also reject the theory of a succession of popes and believe the Church as a whole to be infallible while individuals of any position may err. Some Evangelicals believe that the actual confession of Peter (that Jesus is the Christ), and not Peter himself, is the foundation of the Church.


Later this month, we will celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Paul (another feast commemorating an important event in an apostle’s life), and in June, we will celebrate the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, which commemorates their martyrdom.


In this case, I can find no evidence of any specific traditional activities (with the exception of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which starts on the Feast of the Confession of Peter) for this event other than Scripture readings and prayer.

  • (Traditional) Scripture Readings: Read the story of the confession of Peter.
    • Matthew 16:13-19
    • Mark 8:27-29
    • Luke 9:18-20
  • Kids’ Activities: There are no particular crafts associated with this feast. If you have children, you may provide them with coloring pages such as this one.
  • Reflection / Study Questions: Answer the following questions:
    • Have you openly confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
    • Do you confess it daily with your words and/or activities?
    • How can you “confess” Him in creative ways?
  • (Traditional) Prayer: Pray the following prayer or use it to guide your own prayer (see Footnote 2).
    • “Grant, we pray, almighty God, / that no tempests may disturb us, / for you have set us fast / on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith. / Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, / who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, / one God, for ever and ever. / Amen.”


Since I love knitting (I don’t crochet at all), I wanted to add knit-specific activities. However, I understand some people who read this may want to crochet instead of knit, so I’ll try to add crochet-specific activities as well. Please understand that since I don’t crochet, I can’t vouch for the ease or difficulty of these projects.

My plan is to create a small ornament for each feast or tradition throughout the year. At the end of the year, I plan to hang them all on a calendar or maybe a Christmas tree or banner or wreath, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll create a color-themed wall mount on which to hang them since each liturgical season has a special color associated with it. What do you think?

What is the activity? Recall that after Peter makes his confession, Jesus praises him and, among other things, says, “…I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18) So the ornament for this feast is a key!

  • Knit Pattern: “Key to Heaven” by Schaabling Shire Shoppe (here). Note: I couldn’t find a knitted pattern for a key that I liked for an ornament, so I created one! I previously posted the pattern on my blog.
  • Crochet Pattern: “key key ring” by Justyna Kacprzak (here).





Footnote 1: Relics. A relic is usually the bodily remains or personal effects of a saint or venerated person. It is preserved for veneration and/or worship and is often believed to retain spiritual power. The first relic mentioned in the Bible is the skeletal remains of the prophet Elisha. A group of Jews were burying a man but, when they saw a group of raiders coming their direction, they quickly threw the body into Elisha’s tomb. When the dead man’s body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). In the New Testament, Paul’s handkerchiefs were imbued by God with the power to heal people on one occasion (Acts 19:11-12). However, there’s nothing in the Bible proper to indicate that the above described events regarding Elisha’s bones and Paul’s handkerchiefs were anything but isolated events, and the Bible says nothing to suggest that this power exists in other relics. Many Catholics, however, believe relics are imbued with spiritual power. In fact, veneration of relics (either for their spiritual power or as an indirect means of venerating God) seems to have been taken for granted by Christian writers as early as Augustine (354-430 AD). However, that was one specific item a Catholic monk named Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Lutheran Church, protested against in Catholicism. The Catholic Church had a habit of “finding” relics everywhere and charging people good money to view or venerate the relics in exchange for reduced time in Purgatory and/or magical healing of various ailments. In fact, it is said that if all the fragments of the cross now displayed across the world were gathered together, they would need a ten-ton truck to carry them. In regards to bodily remains relics, Luther specifically pointed out that 26 of the 12 apostles were buried in Germany alone. I could go on about relics, but the point is that because of the lack of Biblical reference suggesting the existence of more relics with spiritual power and because of the fraudulent history of current relics, most Protestants and Evangelicals do not believe relics have power and do not celebrate, commemorate, or venerate relics in any way. The same is true of most Orthodox groups.

Footnote 2: On Prayer. Some groups of Christians recite memorized prayers. Others point to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:7 (“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”) as indicating that we should pray with purpose rather than with memorized or repetitious words. (They also point out that two verses later, when Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer, He says, “After this manner therefore pray…” rather than “With these exact words therefore pray…”) If you are of a group that uses memorized or set or written prayers, do so in this case. If you are of a group that chooses to “pray with purpose,” use these written prayers as a guide as to content for your own prayer.