Category Archives: Lent

Christian Traditions 025: Easter Triduum

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria talks about Good Friday and Holy Saturday in “HOLY WEEK” under “PASSIONTIDE” and about Easter Sunday under “PASCHALTIDE” in her book. She goes into quite a bit of detail about each day in the Easter Triduum. Naturally, Easter Sunday gets what is possibly the longest discussion of any day in her book, which is not surprising considering that Easter Sunday commemorates the most important and most foundational event in Christianity.


The Easter Triduum encompasses Good Friday (beginning the evening prior, i.e., Holy Thursday evening), Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday (until sunset). As such, it commemorates Christ’s passion, death, burial, and resurrection.


The Easter Triduum used to be considered its own liturgical season but no longer is, so there is no one color for the entire Triduum. In the evening service on Holy Thursday, the color may be the white of Easter, the scarlet of Passiontide, or white and gold, depending on the denomination. On Good Friday, the liturgical color may be none, red, black, or black followed by violet. On Holy Saturday, there is technically no liturgical color because there is traditionally no service, though the Easter Night service held on the night of Holy Saturday may encompass black and/or violet. On Easter Sunday, the liturgical color is white, often with gold. The white liturgical color then continues throughout Eastertide.


There are many symbols for the Easter Triduum. The symbol for Good Friday is the cross or crucifix because this is the day on which Christians commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. If there is a symbol for Holy Saturday, the only symbol I could find is the tomb, because Holy Saturday commemorates the day Jesus spent in the tomb. However, there are many symbols for Easter Sunday: Easter lilies are shaped like trumpets, and so are symbols of immortality (1 Corinthians 15:52); the butterfly’s life cycle is a symbol of eternal life, with the cocoon stage symbolizing burial and its emergence into a new and beautiful form symbolizing resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:53-54); eggs are symbols of fertility and immortality, and also the tomb from which Christ arose, with red eggs specifically symbolizing the resurrection (see Footnote 1); lights, candles, and bonfires symbolize the light of Christ; the cross, of course, symbolizes Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection; and the lamb symbolizes Jesus, who was the Lamb of God, the sacrificial lamb to pay the price for our sins (1 Corinthians 5:7). Other symbols of Easter include the lion (Jesus is “the Lion of Judah” [Revelation 5:5]), the whale (Jesus said He would be buried for three days and three nights the same as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights [Matthew 12:40; Jonah 1:17, 2:10]), and the sand dollar. According to the American Bible Society, “The markings on this shell [the sand dollar] symbolize components of Christ’s birth and death. The five-point outline on the front of the sand dollar represents the star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1,2). The five holes in the sand dollar represent the pierced hands, feet, and side of Christ (Psalm 22:16; John 20:26,27). When the sand dollar is opened, it reveals five tiny objects that look similar to flying doves. Doves symbolize the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21,22).”

2 April to 5 April 2015WHEN IS IT?

Because the Easter Triduum includes Good Friday (beginning the evening prior, i.e., Holy Thursday), Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, the Easter Triduum starts on the Thursday evening prior to Easter Sunday, or, three days before Easter Sunday. Therefore, the Easter Triduum may begin as early as 19 March (when Easter Sunday falls 22 March) or as late as 22 April (when Easter Sunday falls 25 April). This year, Easter Sunday falls 5 April, so the Easter Triduum begins at sunset on 2 April (Holy Thursday) and ends at sunset on 5 April (Easter Sunday).


The Easter Triduum, known since at least the second century as Pascha (Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “Passover”), was once a tiny liturgical season sandwiched between the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter and which consisted of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. It’s still a term appropriately applied to those three days, but it’s no longer considered a separate liturgical season. Previously, I wrote about how the church bells must be silent from Holy Thursday until the Easter service. The tradition is that the same is true in the home. For example, any bell rung to bring people to dinner is silenced and alternatives are found for calling people to eat.

Much in relation to Easter is referred to as “Paschal.” I read one online forum about Easter wherein an apparently poorly-informed atheist claimed Easter obviously wasn’t originally a Christian holiday but rather a co-opted pagan holiday because of the name “Pascha.” I wonder what he thought the word means to have given him such a conclusion. As it happens, “pascha” comes from the Greek “pascha,” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew word “pesach,” which means “Passover.” Recall that Jesus died on the Passover. See my previous post on co-opted pagan holidays for more information.

last supper4/2: Holy Thursday

Because we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, and because His arrest occurred—and therefore the process of His trials and crucifixion began—the night before, the evening of Holy Thursday begins the Easter Triduum. In reality, Jesus’ Last Supper and arrest would have occurred on Tuesday (see my previous blog post for more information). (Also, see Footnote 2 for the brief explanation.) Otherwise, I discussed Holy Thursday in detail in my previous blog post on Holy Week, so refer back to that post for more information on Holy Thursday.

On the evening of Holy Thursday, it’s traditional for Christians to celebrate the Passover Seder. (Coincidentally, this year, the true Passover—14 Nisan on the Hebrew calendar—falls on Good Friday!) It was tradition in Christ’s day, when a good friend or family member was to depart the following morning, for those remaining behind to toast the soon-to-be-departed with wine and unleavened bread, with the breaking of the bread symbolizing their love for the departing one. This tradition, which started among Christians with Jesus’ own great farewell in the Passover Seder He celebrated with His disciples the night before He died, was adopted by early Christians, who called it an “agape” or “love [feast].”


good_friday4/3: Good Friday

Good Friday is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, and Black Friday. It is also sometimes known as Easter Friday, but this term technically refers to the Friday in Easter Week.

Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial. In reality, this would have occurred on Wednesday and Jesus would have been in the tomb already on Friday (see my previous blog post for more information).

The Good Friday service sees the altar, bare since the Holy Thursday service, redressed (in black) and the sanctuary decorations, removed on Holy Thursday, return. This is considered fitting since it was on the cross that Jesus remade creation. The congregation, shoeless, walks down the church aisle, prostrating three times along the way, to the crucifix, where they kiss the feet of the crucified. When all the congregation has finished, the crucifix is placed on the altar and the congregation takes the Lord’s Supper. At the end of the service, the altar is again stripped.

Traditionally, the people fast on this day, though the fasting observed appears to vary by locale. In reality, the disciples may very well have fasted on the day Jesus died due to the approaching Sabbath and the probable lack of preparation for it while watching to see what would happen to their Rabbi. Talking is restricted to the bare minimum and is hushed, as it would be if a dearly beloved were dying or already dead in the home. From noon to 3 pm, the hours Christ spent on the cross (which in reality was 9 am to 3 pm; see my previous post on that topic), all activity in the house ceases and these hours are given to prayer, meditation, and spiritual reading with the occasional hymn sung. Furthermore, at about 3 pm, the hour of Jesus’ death, the vigil lamp (or “vigil light”) kept on the family altar is put out in honor of the death of the Light of the World.

titian-the-entombment-15594/4: Holy Saturday or Black Saturday

Holy Saturday commemorates the day Jesus spent in the tomb. In reality, He would have spent three days and three nights in the tomb (see my previous blog post on that topic).

On the morning of Holy Saturday, the paschal eggs (or, Easter eggs) are dyed and decorated. Maria Von Trapp tells that in her family, the children would take their dyed eggs to their rooms to decorate in secret, and many prepare a special Easter egg for someone else. The eggs are preserved until Easter Sunday morning, when they are eaten for breakfast. Most of the activity of Holy Saturday is merely preparation for Easter Sunday. Around 150 AD, a Christian writer identified that some Christians fasted for only one day, others for more, even up to forty days, and this may be the origin of the 40-day Lenten fast. As early as the 200s AD, the strict Easter Vigil fast ended after sundown on Holy Saturday, though by 313 AD, this fast was officially observed specifically by catechumens (new converts) about to be baptized (as they frequently were baptized during the Easter Vigil), and in the 400s AD, it was officially extended into a church-wide 40-day partial fast now known as Lent. Some today observe a partial version of this original Easter Vigil fast on Good Friday and not at all on Holy Saturday.

easter-candle_1427309951Recall that the church altar is stripped at the end of the Good Friday service. Normally, there is no morning service for Holy Saturday; hence, there is no liturgical color for this day. On Holy Saturday night, however, the Easter Night service begins. (The tradition of an Easter Night service was removed at some point and then later reinstated.) The “Feast of Light” occurs outside the church, where a bonfire is lit. The priest takes the Paschal candle and uses a knife to carve into it a cross, alpha, omega, and the current year. During the carving, he says, “Christ yesterday and today / the Beginning and the End / Alpha and Omega / His are the times and ages / To Him be glory and dominion / Through all ages of eternity / Amen.” Then the priest fixes five grains of incense in the cross on the candle, saying, “By His holy and glorious wounds / may he guard and preserve us / Christ the Lord. / Amen.” (Recall that Jesus was pierced with nails through His wrists and feet and by a spear through His side; hence, five piercings/wounds.) Finally, a separate candle is lit from the bonfire, and from this the priest lights the Paschal candle, saying, “May the light of Christ / In glory rising again, / Dispel the darkness of / Heart and mind.” The people then enter the church. At the threshold of the church, the priest/pastor and all the congregation lights their candles from the Paschal candle. Afterward, the service starts with singing. The priest/pastor, first dressed in Lenten violet, change into Easter white. After the service is over, each family lights a lantern from the Easter light (the bonfire) and takes it home to relight the family vigil lamp. Traditionally, families also take home blackened logs from the Easter fire and keep them at the fireplace to ward off danger from storms and lightning.

4/5: Easter Sunday

As discussed before, Easter Sunday will be presented in its own separate blog post.

Side Note: Technically, the Easter Night service, which begins at about 11 pm on Holy Saturday in some churches, crosses over midnight into Easter Sunday!


Easter Sunday marks the beginning of Eastertide or Easter Season, a 50-day liturgical season. Holy Saturday, therefore, is the last day of Lent and Passiontide.


There are many traditional activities for this mini-season.

  • Readings: The readings for this event are:
    • Thursday: see my previous post for this
    • Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42
    • Saturday: Job 14:1-14; Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16; I Peter 4:1-8; Matthew 27:57-66
    • Sunday: see my next post for this
  • Passover Seder. Traditionally, Christians celebrate it on Thursday evening, the day Jesus was traditionally considered to have celebrated it with His disciples. In reality, He would have celebrated it on Tuesday evening. Furthermore, the real date for the Passover this year (2015) is Good Friday. Consider celebrating the Passover Seder this year.
  • Good Friday. There are several activities for this day.
    • Décor: Good Friday’s color is usually black but may also be red or none.
    • Fasting: Normally, the Lenten diet ends on Holy Thursday, but Christians traditionally fasted again on Good Friday, perhaps in memory of Jesus’ implicit command to His disciples to fast when the Bridegroom (Himself) was taken from them (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20).
    • Vigil: During the hours Jesus was on the cross (9 am to 3 pm, though traditionally 12 noon to 3 pm is used instead), activity ceases, people speak only if necessary and then only in hushed voices (as they would if a loved one was actively dying in the house), and the time is given to prayer, meditation, and singing of hymns.
    • Vigil Light: The candle on the family altar or in the chapel that represents Jesus is allowed to burn all day until 3 pm, the hour of Jesus’ death, at which time it is put out.
    • Good Friday Service: Consider attending a Good Friday church service.
  • Holy Saturday. There are several activities for this day.
    • Décor: Technically, Holy Saturday has no liturgical color, but they may use black in the Easter Night service.
    • Paschal Eggs: The eggs to be eaten on Easter Sunday are cooked and decorated today.
    • Fasting: The Easter Vigil fast which begins on Friday ends on Saturday evening.
    • Holy Saturday Service: Consider attending an Easter Night church service.


The Easter Triduum commemorates Jesus’ trials, passion, crucifixion, death, and burial. Consider working something very simple on this day: a cross.

  • Knitting Patterns: “Cross of Unity” by Melanie Schaab (here). (NOTE: Make just the cross, not the hoops.)
  • Crochet Patterns: “Christian Cross” by Suzanne Alise” (here). Note: I found information on the size of the cross, which measures 4” x 6.25” when finished, so much larger than I intended since all ornaments should be approximately 3” at the largest measurement (length/width/diameter), so you may have to adjust the number of stitches to get the appropriate size.





Footnote 1: Easter eggs and other symbols. Because Easter will be in another blog post of its own, I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I wanted to briefly address the concern that certain Easter symbols are pagan in origin. Briefly, it’s true that some are and were probably intentionally co-opted, while others are pagan symbols but the connection to Easter is probably coincidental because both happen to occur in the spring, and still others are probably purely Christian. I’ll try to go into detail on each symbol in that post.

Footnote 2: The brief explanation. The brief explanation is that we know Jesus died on a Sabbath, and that the weekly Sabbath occurs on Saturday (beginning at sunset the evening prior, i.e., Friday); therefore, the church has traditionally held that Jesus must have died on a Friday a few hours before the Sabbath started at sunset. However, there are several additional Sabbaths throughout the year tied to a specific date rather than to a day of the week, and these Sabbaths, called “high Sabbaths,” most often fall during the week. One such Sabbath is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which starts at sunset on the day after the Passover, and we know Jesus celebrated the Passover the evening before He died, so we know the following sunset (a few hours after His death) would have been a high Sabbath. In other words, because the Passover began at sunset the evening before Jesus died, we know that He died before a Sabbath (specifically, a “high Sabbath”) no matter what day of the week He died. Other evidence from Scripture—such as His prophecy that He would be in the tomb three days and three nights; facts regarding when He traveled to Bethany, and from Bethany to Jerusalem; and the use of the plural “Sabbaths” in the original Greek in the Gospel of Luke telling that Mary came to the tomb after the “Sabbaths”—demonstrate that there were two Sabbaths during Jesus’ entombment, one of which was the high Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the other of which was the weekly Sabbath on Saturday. Again, see my previous blog post for more details.


Christian Traditions 024: April 2015 Introduction


Depending on the date of Easter, which may fall anywhere from 22 March to 25 April, April may consist entirely of Eastertide on one extreme or consist mostly of Lent and Passiontide with only six days of Eastertide on the other extreme. If Easter falls as early as possible (on 22 March), the last day of April will be Ascension Thursday.


Because April always consists of some portion of Eastertide, white as a liturgical color will always be represented in April. If Lent and/or Passiontide fall during April, violet and/or crimson may be used in April as well; and if Easter falls as early as possible and the last day of April is therefore Ascension Thursday, April’s colors will be white. If Easter Sunday falls anywhere from 23 March to 1 April, all of April will fall in Eastertide and therefore use the liturgical color white. This year, Easter falls on 5 April, so April will encompass either the Lenten violet or the Passiontide red for 1-4 April and the Eastertide white for 5-30 April; therefore, the vast majority of April will be white. (Note that Good Friday may have a different color depending on the denomination.)


This year, because Easter falls on 5 April, April consists of 4 days of Passiontide and 26 days of Eastertide. Because there are 40 days of Eastertide through Ascension Thursday (inclusive), Ascension Thursday will not occur in April this year.

The last four days of Passiontide, which fall within April, include Holy Wednesday (1 April), Holy Thursday (2 April), Good Friday (3 April), and Holy Saturday (4 April). Interestingly, the Passover, 14 Nisan, falls on Good Friday (3 April) this year. (However, there will be no blog post for the Passover.) The Easter Triduum begins the evening of Holy Thursday (2 April) and ends the evening of Easter Sunday (5 April).

Eastertide starts with Easter Sunday (5 April) and stretches throughout the rest of April and into May. The Monday after Easter Sunday is called Easter Monday (6 April) and the first eight days of Eastertide are called the Easter Octave (5-12 April). Otherwise, there are no more moveable feasts that fall within April this year.

Immoveable feasts that occur in April include days for St. George, the patron saint of England (23 April), St. Mark, the author of the Gospel by the same name (25 April), and St. James, the brother of St. John and son of Zebedee (30 April), and the major Rogation Day (25 April). The minor Rogation Days are moveable feasts which fall in the week prior to Ascension Thursday; this year, Ascension Thursday is on 15 May, so the minor Rogation Days fall in May.

The Resurrection of ChristWHAT IS IT?

As discussed previously, Pre-Lent is a distant preparation for Easter, Lent is the proximal preparation, and Passiontide is the immediate preparation. Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, focuses on Jesus’ last week prior to His crucifixion and more specifically on His sufferings. The last two days, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, commemorate His death and burial, with which His disciples’ hope died and was buried, and which undoubtedly was accompanied by intense confusion, grief, and mourning among His followers.

Easter, on the other hand, begins with the joyful commemoration of His resurrection and His next 40 days on Earth prior to His ascension. Eastertide continues for an additional 10 days of the early Christians’ earliest ministry and evangelism and concludes with Pentecost, which commemorates the event now considered the “Birthday of the Church.” (However, as noted above, April includes neither the Ascension this year nor Pentecost any year.)

Two thirds of the Easter Triduum is composed of Passiontide (Good Friday and Holy Saturday) and one third of Easter (Easter Sunday) and so it encompasses both the intense grief and mourning of Jesus’ death and burial and also the joy and celebration of His resurrection.


You should not require any special items or ingredients for any of the commemorative events of April in this year.


The calendar of events for April looks like this:

  • 3/30-4/4: Holy Week
    • 1: Holy Wednesday
    • 2: Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday
  • 4/3-4/5: Easter Triduum
    • 3: Good Friday
    • 4: Holy Saturday
    • 5: Easter Sunday
  • 4/5-4/30: Eastertide
    • 4/5-4/12: Easter Octave
    • 5: Easter Sunday
    • 6: Easter Monday
  • 23: Feast of St. George
  • 25: Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist
  • 25: Rogation Day
  • 28: Feast of St. James the Great



Christian Traditions 023: Holy Week

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria discusses Holy Week in “HOLY WEEK” under “PASSIONTIDE” in her book.


Holy Week encompasses the last week before Easter. As such, it is the last week of Lent and of Passiontide and encompasses some of the Easter Triduum. This week commemorates Jesus’ last major events (e.g., the Last Supper), crucifixion, death, and burial. This is perhaps the most solemn week of the entire liturgical calendar.


The Lenten violet or Passiontide scarlet continues through this time, with the exception of a brief appearance of white on Thursday.

30 March to 4 April 2015WHEN IS IT?

Some consider Holy Week to start on Palm Sunday whereas others consider it to start with Monday. Therefore, Holy Week encompasses either six or seven days and may fall in March and/or April since Easter falls anywhere from 22 March to 25 April. This year, Holy Monday falls on 30 March and Holy Saturday falls on 4 April. As discussed previously, I will discuss the Easter Triduum (which includes the evening of Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday) in a separate post, so this blog post will only cover the first part of Holy Week, Holy Monday (30 March) through Maundy Thursday (2 April).


Holy Week is the final week of Lent before Easter. In traditionally Catholic communities, the week may be filled to the brim with daily community celebrations. (Personal note: Though not Catholic, I wish I lived in such a community! I would love to start a practice of daily Holy Week events in my local church.)

Traditionally, the first three days of Holy Week (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) were dedicated to spring cleaning. Because it was such a massive undertaking in the days before the vacuum cleaner, there was little time for cooking and so meals were made of leftovers and all three days were required to complete the project.

Jesus_Curses_Fig_Tree_Ilyas_Rahib_c16253/30: Holy Monday

As discussed above, this day is given to spring cleaning.

This day is considered to be the day on which Jesus cursed the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:20-26), the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ authority (Matthew 21:23-27), and/or the Cleansing of the Temple occurred (Matthew 21:12-17, 23-27; Mark 11:15-19, 27-33; Luke 19:45-48, 20:1-8). However, some of these events probably occurred in different years, considering the facts that these events are tied somewhat or specifically to a Passover and that Jesus’ ministry spanned at least two or three Passovers.

3/31: Holy Tuesday

As discussed above, this day is also given to spring cleaning.

In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, this day commemorates the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), which teaches about vigilance in awaiting the Bridegroom, which is Christ. This would actually have been the day of the Last Supper, and sunset would have marked the day the Passover began since Jewish days begin at sunset (see my previous blog post on that topic).

ahriman-caiaphas-judas4/1: Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday

As discussed above, this is the last day of Holy Week given to spring cleaning.

This day commemorates two events: that of the sinful woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointing His head with perfume, and that of Judas agreeing to betray Jesus. In reality, both events would have occurred Monday because Matthew 26:1-16 and Mark 14:1-11 tell us it occurred two days before Passover, which fell on a Wednesday (see my previous blog post about that topic). This day is called “Spy Wednesday” because, depending on the source you read, it commemorates either Judas’ intention to betray Jesus and thus proceeding to spy for a chance to do so over the next few days, or specifically commemorates Judas spying on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because the Orthodox Church holds that Judas agreed on a Wednesday to betray Jesus, it is a traditional practice among Orthodox Christians to fast on all Wednesdays throughout the year. (It is also traditional to fast on Fridays, but not for the same reason.)

In the Czech Republic, chimneys were traditionally swept on this day to be clean for Easter, hence the alternate names Ugly Wednesday, Soot-Sweeping Wednesday, or Black Wednesday.

Albrecht_Bouts_Simon_the_PhariseeIn some communities, as Maria tells, community-wide evening celebrations begin on Wednesday night; in Austria, it was known as the Feierabend (“evening celebration”). Every evening, work ends early and no unnecessary work is done so that the people can go into town and attend Tenebrae services. During these services, there are thirteen candles. After singing each of a dozen psalms, a candle is extinguished to remind us of how the disciples left Jesus one by one. Finally, only one candle is left lit, symbolizing Jesus left all alone. While the altar boy carries the lone candle away, leaving the church in darkness, the people sing the Miserere (Psalm 50). At the moment of darkness, a loud clash symbolizes Jesus’ death. At the end of the Miserere, the churchgoers engage in an ancient custom of banging the hymnals noisily, which symbolizes either the earthquake at Jesus’ death or the earthquake at His resurrection. After the “earthquake,” the altar boy brings the lone candle back into the church and sets it up on the candlestick, “a ray of hope anticipating the glorious Easter night.” (Trapp) In Malta, Holy Wednesday is also known as Wednesday of Shadows in reference to the Tenebrae service. Sometimes, this Tenebrae is celebrated on Maundy Thursday instead.

maundy-thursday-washing-desciples-feet14/2: Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday

Holy Thursday is also known as Maundy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Sheer Thursday, Thursday of Mysteries, and Green Thursday. None of the names are evenly distributed, with the “normal name” for the day varying by country and region, and even by liturgical and civil calendars. In fact, “Holy Thursday” is sometimes applied to the Feast of the Ascension, which commemorates Jesus’ ascension into heaven 40 days after His resurrection. According to some scholars, the term “maundy,” from which we get “Maundy Thursday,” originally comes from Jesus’ statement during the Last Supper, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) The words “a new commandment” in Latin are “Mandatum novum.” An alternative explanation is that “Maundy” comes from “maundsor baskets/purses” of alms that the king of England would distribute to the poor before Mass on that day, the old English “maund” meaning “to beg.” “Sheer” or “Shere Thursday” means “clean/bright Thursday” and refers either to the act of cleaning, or to the changing of colors from Lenten violet to Easter white, or because of a customary practice of shearing beards on that day. “Green Thursday” comes from the German word “greinen,” which means “to cry or moan.”

Holy Thursday commemorates the Maundy (Jesus washing His disciples’ feet) and the Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples. (In reality, the Maundy and Last Supper would have occurred on Tuesday evening since He died on a Wednesday and Thursday would have been the first day in the tomb, and coincidentally was also a high Sabbath. See my previous blog post about that topic.) In some churches, it is the practice of the bishops and abbots to kneel and wash the feet of the twelve oldest members of their communities. After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus stood and instructed them, “For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” This practice of washing the elders’ feet is meant to remind church members to take home this attitude of setting an example of putting others first and serving them. Interestingly, Maria comments, “because we Catholics [read: all Christians] have not awakened to this fact, we are rightly to be blamed for all the wrong and injustice and wars going on in the world!” (Trapp) It’s also traditional to commemorate the Lord’s Supper on this day.

last supperHoly Thursday also commemorates His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He prayed, “Oh, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but what You will.” (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36) That is, it commemorates the fact that Jesus “humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8) For this reason, the music begins as festive and the church bells ring “once more for the last time because, right afterwards, Holy Church, as the Bride of Christ, goes into mourning as she accompanies the Bridegroom through His hours of unspeakable suffering.” (Trapp) Because the bells are silent after the morning Mass of Holy Thursday, a children’s legend teaches that after the service, the bells fly to Rome, where the Pope blesses them; afterward, they fly back to the church just in time for the Easter service.

Since the 300s AD, Maundy Thursday has been considered the last day of Lenten fasting, though some churches continue the Lenten fast but relax it to allow oil and wine. It has (since the 300s AD) also been considered the day of reconciliation—i.e., the day on which those excommunicated could repent and be reconciled to the Church (see my previous post on Ash Wednesday for more information on the process of temporary excommunication and penance). There is also a tradition of visiting seven churches on this day, a tradition which probably originated in Ancient Rome. Today, different countries have traditions for visiting a different number of churches, ranging anywhere from one to fourteen (for each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross).

The altar is draped in white instead of Lenten violet on this day in honor of the Lord’s Last Supper. Certain cheerful hymns also return to this service. However, at the end of the service, the cheerful white is stripped from the altar, symbolizing Christ being stripped by the Roman soldiers prior to His crucifixion, and the sanctuary decorations are removed while the congregation reads or chants Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm that predicts His death.

The evening of Maundy Thursday begins the Easter Triduum, which will be discussed in the next blog post.


The Easter Triduum begins the evening of Maundy Thursday (2 April) and runs through Easter Sunday (5 April).


There are several traditional practices during this week, as explained above.

  • Readings. The readings for this week are:
    • Monday: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 36:5-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11
    • Tuesday: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; I Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36
    • Wednesday: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32
    • Thursday: Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
  • Spring Cleaning. The first three days of the week, Monday through Wednesday, are traditionally given to spring cleaning.
  • Tenebrae Services. This day usually begins the evening services of Holy Week. If you can, consider attending such a service. If you are unable or wish to recreate such a service in your own home or in a small group setting, you may replace any of the typical Catholic hymns with Protestant or Evangelical hymns with which you are more familiar (Catholics, please don’t take offense; remember that this series is aimed at Evangelicals who know little or nothing about Christian traditions), and you may consider having this service or family observance on Tuesday evening, which is when the first events symbolized (the disciples abandoning Christ) by the service would have occurred.
  • Church Visitation. On Thursday, it is traditional to visit 1-14 other churches, with 7 being the most traditional. The tradition is believed to have originated in ancient Rome, where most churches were actually house churches; therefore, there would have been many churches in one city. My mother told me that her adult Sunday School group would occasionally have a large party where they would travel to one person’s house for the appetizer, then to another’s for the first course, and so on, until they had been to several homes and eaten a full meal in one evening. If you are trying to follow the Christian traditions in a small group setting, consider traveling to each other’s homes rather than to seven churches.
  • Lord’s Supper. On Thursday, it is traditional to observe the Lord’s Supper. The Last Supper would actually have occurred on Tuesday, so you could alternately observe the Lord’s Supper on Holy Tuesday instead.
  • Décor. It’s traditional to briefly drape the altar with white cloth in honor of the Lord’s Supper and then to strip it from the altar, symbolizing Christ being stripped by the Roman soldiers prior to His crucifixion. In reality, the Lord’s Supper would have occurred on Tuesday evening and Jesus would have been stripped on Wednesday morning. In place of the Lenten violet or Passiontide scarlet, you may choose to both apply a white cloth and remove it on Thursday, the traditional day for this observance, or to apply it Tuesday evening and strip it Wednesday morning, the days the events would have actually occurred.
  • Interactive Reading. During the Thursday service, it is traditional to read or chant Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm predicting His death. You may choose to read or chant this psalm with your family or small group at any time this week, perhaps especially on Monday, since there are few practices for that day.


Frankly, there is so much that happens during this week and so little that occurs on the days they would actually have occurred in reality that I’m having difficulty coming up with appropriate projects. I asked myself whether I really want to knit something for every day of the eight-day week these events encompass (Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday), and I think I might, but I don’t have the time this year. I may update next year with projects for every day of this week, but for now, I’ve chosen only to have a project for Easter Sunday.



Christian Traditions 022: Palm Sunday

Von Trapp Follow-Along: As stated in the previous blog post, Maria discusses Passiontide at some length in her book under “Passiontide.” She also writes extensively about Palm Sunday specifically.


Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, during which we commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Palm Sunday itself commemorates Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

palm branchSYMBOL

The symbol of Palm Sunday is, obviously, a palm branch. Traditionally, the palm branch is a symbol of joy and victory—in this case, it symbolizes victory over the flesh and the world or, more specifically, Christ’s coming victory over sin and death.

29 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

As discussed previously, Palm Sunday is the second Sunday of Passiontide, the last Sunday before Easter Sunday. It may occur as early as 15 March or as late as 18 April. This year, Palm Sunday falls on 29 March.

Palm Sunday is sometimes unofficially (in some places, officially) referred to as “Passion Sunday.” Prior to the 1969 Catholic reforms, the term “Passion Sunday” was only applied to the first Sunday of Passiontide in Catholic and non-Catholic churches. In this and all other posts on the topic, when I talk about “Passion Sunday,” I am referring to the first Sunday of Passiontide, and when I talk about “Palm Sunday,” I am referring to the second Sunday of Passiontide.

Palm SundayWHAT IS IT?

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is recorded in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19. In brief, the story is that Jesus came to Jerusalem before the Sabbath and sent His disciples into the city to obtain a donkey colt. Then, in fulfillment of prophecy, He rode the donkey into Jerusalem while the crowd threw their garments and palm branches on the ground before Him and waved palm branches, crying “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He (or, the King of Israel) Who comes in the Name of the Lord!”

As discussed in a previous post, the Bible tells us that Jesus traveled to Bethany six days before His death and stayed with His friends there (Lazarus, Mary, and Martha), and that He traveled from Bethany to Jerusalem the following day (John 12:1, 12-15). As discussed in a previous post, Jesus died on a Wednesday afternoon, so that means He traveled to Bethany on Thursday and made His Triumphal Entry on the back of a donkey on Friday (in the evening of which, Sabbath would have begun). Therefore, celebrating His Triumphal Entry as having occurred on a Sunday is inaccurate, but probably not important from a theological perspective since, as I will discuss in a future blog post, it matters more that we obey God in faith (Romans 4:1-22, Galatians 3:6-9) than that we commemorate something on the exact day on which it may have occurred, especially given that there is no Scriptural command to observe Palm Sunday.

As discussed previously, Passiontide has been observed since the 200s AD, but the first recorded case of Palm Sunday being openly observed was after Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which reversed the declaration of Christianity as illegal, in 313 AD. The Christians in Jerusalem stood on the spot where the Triumphal Entry had occurred and read Zechariah 9:9 (“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion: shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”), then re-enacted the Triumphal Entry. They spread their garments on the ground, crying “Blessed be the King Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38; also Psalm 118:26) (Coincidentally, the crowd also cried “Hosanna” [Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; John 12:13], which means “save now,” and is also found in Psalm 118, in verse 25.) The bishop, mounted on a donkey, rode up to the church on the Mount of Olives while the crowd surrounded him, carrying palms and singing hymns and joyful anthems. This practice spread to the Church at Rome, where the ceremony was preceded by a reading from the Bible describing the flight into Egypt because of Herod’s edict. This they did to remind “Christ’s people that Christ, the new Moses, in giving them the real manna, is delivering them out of the Egypt of sin and nourishing them in the Eucharist.” (per Maria Von Trapp)

We don’t know exactly when Christians began to annually observe Palm Sunday, only that it was observed at least sporadically since the 300s AD and that Christians began to observe it annually sometime between 600 and 1000 AD. In the 800s AD, the Church began to bless the palm branches prior to the Palm Sunday procession. In medieval times, the people met at a chapel or shrine outside of town, the bishop blessed the palms, and then the bishop and the people began their procession to the cathedral, often with the bishop riding on a donkey, with a crucifix carried ahead of them, or with the king carrying the Blessed Sacrament. Blessed palm leaves (or pussy willow, evergreen, olive, box elder, spruce, etc., depending on the area) are brought home and placed in every field or yard of the home, and sometimes in various places within the home (for example, Maria Von Trapp describes putting sprigs behind the pictures on the wall); this is thought to protect the property against evil spirits and damage from weather events. They may also be buried to preserve crops or used to decorate graves. Other blessed palm leaves are burned and their ashes preserved for the following year’s Ash Wednesday.

In some churches today, Palm Sunday has two foci: the Lord’s Triumphal Entry, and the Lord’s Passion. His Passion is also specifically observed later in Holy Week, regardless of whether it is observed on Palm Sunday. (Of course, this is only true if the church has services on those days.)


Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week. Next, I will publish a post about all of Holy Week minus the Easter Triduum. The Easter Triduum, which begins the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends the evening of Easter Sunday, deserves special attention and a blog post of its own. Easter Sunday will also have its own blog post.


There are many traditional practices for this day.

  • Readings. The readings for today are:
    • Isaiah 50:4-9a
    • Psalm 31:9-16
    • Philippians 2:5-11
    • Mark 14:1-15:47
  • Procession. Take part in a Palm Sunday procession, either in a church or in your own home or small group.
  • Décor. Save the palm branches and place them around your house.
  • Palm Branches. Traditionally, palm branches were placed or buried in all of the fields or yards of the home, and sprigs were often placed in various rooms of the house. This was thought to ward off evil spirits and protect from weather damage. Regardless of whether you believe in that, it might be fun and harmless to place the palm branches accordingly.


For today, we will craft palm branches.

  • Knitting Patterns. “Palm Tree” by Sunshine Knit Designs (here)
  • Crochet Patterns. “Palm Tree” by Amanda B (here) OR “Palm tree smoothie hat” by beffdizzle (here)



Christian Traditions 021: Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

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


The Annunciation is one of the oldest Christian commemorations, being a bit younger than Easter and a bit older than Christmas and Candlemas, possibly around the same age as Passiontide but older than Palm Sunday. This makes it possibly the second-oldest Christian commemoration of all. Specifically, it commemorates the announcement Gabriel made to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Messiah. Therefore, it specifically commemorates the date Jesus was conceived.

25 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

The Feast (or Solemnity) of the Annunciation is observed on 25 March every year, regardless of the day of the week. Because Easter may occur as early as 22 March or as late as 25 April, the Annunciation may occur after Easter or, more commonly, during Lent or Passiontide. This year, it falls during Passiontide, which runs from 22 March to 4 April. Specifically, it falls during the first week of Passiontide, known as Passion Week. I personally think this is very fitting because the Annunciation, which commemorates Mary learning that she would bear the Messiah, falls on 25 March while the Friday of Sorrows, which commemorates Mary’s sorrow at Jesus’ death, falls on 27 March.

Paolo_de_Matteis_-_The_AnnunciationWHAT IS IT?

The Annunciation commemorates Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was to bear the Messiah: “Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end…. The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” (See Luke 1:26-38.) Therefore, simultaneously, it commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus.

As I discussed in a previous blog post and will discuss in a future blog post (link to be added here when it is published; currently scheduled for 10 April 2015), Easter has been commemorated since the first century AD and possibly in the first year following Jesus’ death. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus died on Passover, which is 14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar. However, the Hebrew calendar is significantly different from the Roman calendar. As I will discuss in the future blog post mentioned above, there is good reason to believe that translates to 3 April, 30 AD. Nevertheless, Tertullian of Carthage (of the Western or Rome-associated Church) calculated in 200 AD that in the year of Jesus’ death, 14 Nisan correlated to 25 March and the Eastern (or Jerusalem-associated Church) calculated it to be 6 April. (Most likely, neither is correct because the Passover did not fall on either of those dates within 10 years of Jesus’ most likely year of death.) Therefore, the Western Church began to commemorate Easter on 25 March every year and the Eastern Church began to commemorate Easter on 6 April every year. Then in 221 AD, Julius Sextus Africanus suggested that Jesus entered the world (i.e., was conceived) and left the world (i.e., died) on the same day—therefore, that He was conceived on 25 March (per the Western Church) or 6 April (per the Eastern Church). Adding nine months to either date gives us 25 December (Western Church) or 6 January (Eastern Church) for His date of birth, which is when the respective churches now commemorate His birth. Nevertheless, the Annunciation has therefore been considered to have fallen on 25 March or 6 April since as early as 221 AD. When exactly Christians began annually commemorating it is unknown. The first mention of it as a Christian feast day dates to 656 AD, wherein it is stated that the feast was celebrated throughout the entire Church, so we know its commemoration is significantly older than the 600s AD.

(Side Note: This feast should not be confused with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is actually a commemoration of the Catholic sacred tradition belief that Mary was immaculately conceived as well. That is, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception commemorates Mary’s mother conceiving her, whereas the Feast of the Annunciation commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus.)

There are very few traditional or commemorative practices for the Annunciation. The first practice I found is an exemption from Lenten fasting, dating back to at least 1251 AD, wherein Solemnities are exempted from Lenten fasting, and the Annunciation is now considered a Solemnity. However, there’s some confusion about whether this actually applies to the Annunciation. Read here for more mind-numbing details. The only other practice I found is for farmers to pray for the success of the year’s crops due to the Annunciation’s coincidental occurrence close to the beginning of spring.

As a side note, if the Annunciation falls on Good Friday (whereupon it is transferred to the Monday following the Sunday after Easter Sunday), English folk tradition holds that it is a bad omen and bad luck will follow. The saying goes, “If Our Lord falls in Our Lady’s lap, England will meet with a great mishap.” In 2005, these dates occurred together and were followed by terrorist attacks on London’s subways. The next time these days will occur together is 2016.


This day commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus. In Luke 2, we read that immediately after Gabriel made this announcement to her, Mary set off to visit Elizabeth. Upon Mary greeting Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leapt and Elizabeth made a prophecy and Mary responded with a song. The commemoration of this event, the Feast of the Visitation, is held on 30 March in the Eastern Church or 31 May in the Western Church.


There are few traditional practices for this feast day.

  • Readings. The readings for today are:
    • Isaiah 7:10-14
    • Psalm 45
    • Hebrews 10:4-10
    • Luke 1:26-38
  • Food. Today is an optional exemption from Lenten fasting. Technically, every Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (or, Rose Sunday), and St. Patrick’s Day are all exemptions. My husband and I felt that the special character of Laetare Sunday as an exception to the rule due to its status as the halfway mark in Lent and changing the character of Lent to looking toward Easter would be lost if every Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Annunciation were all exceptions. Therefore, we chose to use only Laetare Sunday as an exemption. (We ended up also making a tiny exception on St. Patrick’s Day in spite of our plans.) However, it really is up to you whether you make exceptions or whether you even fast on Lent.
  • Prayer. Traditionally, farmers pray for good crops on this day. If you live in the U.S., consider a prayer for our bees, which are responsible for much of our crops’ pollination (in fact, they’re necessary for pollination of 70 of our top 100 food crops, which supply about 90% of the world’s nutrition) and which were very hard-hit recently and have yet to recover. The number of bee colonies in the U.S. has declined by 90% since 1962, but colonies have died off in rates up to 60-90% in a single year in recent years. The two leading causes identified are loss of habitat (wild bees) and pesticides (wild and domesticated bees). Obviously, pesticides aren’t going away—they make our crop production much greater than without—but the effect on the bee population is very concerning. Other countries have found solutions suitable to their cultures and economies to stop or slow their bee population decline, but these solutions are generally rejected in the U.S. for various reasons. Consider a prayer that we can find a good solution to this issue that will save bees while preserving economic stability and implement it quickly.
  • Hymns. Consider learning and singing an Annunciation Hymn. Below is an example called Troparion of the Annunciation:
    • Today is the beginning of our salvation,
      And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
      The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
      As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
      Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: 

      Rejoice, O Full of Grace, :The Lord is with You!


Because this day commemorates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, the project for today will be an angel.

  • Knitting Projects. “Angel Choir Set” by Cindy Polfer (here) OR “Angel Ornament” by Edie Eckman (here) OR “Tiny Angel Doll” by Mama Bear (here).
  • Crochet Projects. “Angel/Ängel” by Erika Olsson (here) OR “Angel in Flight Ornament” by Priscilla Hewitt (here) OR “Angel Bells” by Sue Childress (here)

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 017: St. Patrick’s Day

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


St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, the death of the patron saint of Ireland, and the heritage and culture of the Irish.


Green. Green has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640s when the Irish Catholic Confederation used the green harp flag (pictured at left), and it has been associated with St. Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s. Interestingly, however, when the Order of St. Patrick was founded in 1783, it selected blue as its color.


The Shamrock. Patrick is said in tradition that first appeared in writing in 1726 AD (though the story itself may be older) to have used the three-leaf clover (the shamrock) to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. Irish pagan tradition, wherein three was a significant number and there were many triple deities, helped St. Patrick’s evangelistic efforts. Like the color green, shamrocks have been associated with St. Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s. (Note that the four-leaf clover is NOT associated with St. Patrick—it’s the three-leaf clover, as described above.)

17 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally held on 17 March in both secular and religious functions. However, on the liturgical calendar, any saint’s day that falls during certain feasts and solemnities must be moved to another day so as not to overshadow or undermine the meaning of the greater feast. Because St. Patrick’s Day is on 17 March, it may occasionally fall during Holy Week (the final week before Easter) and hence must be moved. Most recently, this occurred in 1940 (where it was observed 3 April due to its coinciding with Palm Sunday, one week before Easter Sunday) and again in 2008 (where it was officially observed 14 March due to its coincidence with Holy Monday). The next year St. Patrick’s Day will fall within Holy Week is 2160, where it will again fall on Holy Monday.

saint patrickWHAT IS IT?

St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the death of the patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick (c. 385-461 AD) is the patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official feast day in the Catholic Church in the early 1600s.

Most of what we know about St. Patrick comes from the Declaration and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, both accepted as having been authored by Patrick himself. He is believed to have been born in Roman Britain circa 385 AD into a wealthy Romano-British family with a deacon father and a priest grandfather. At the age of 16, he was allegedly kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland, where he spent six years working as a shepherd. God then told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home; after coming home, Patrick went on to become a priest. He then returned to Ireland circa 432 AD, where he spent many years evangelizing in northern Ireland and converted over 100,000 pagan Irish to Christianity while planting over 300 churches. (However, it’s possible some of his alleged actions were actually performed by Palladius, who was also known as “Patrick” and who arrived in Ireland in 431 AD.) According to tradition, he died 17 March circa 460 or 493 AD and was buried at Downpatrick. After his death, his corpse and other objects from his tomb became the foci of various battles and struggles. (See Footnote 1 about the snakes in the painting of Saint Patrick.)

Although St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated by the Irish as early as the 800s-900s AD, it was only finally placed on the liturgical calendar in the early 1600s. It became an official public holiday in Ireland in 1903. Based on my limited reading, it seems most countries adopted St. Patrick’s Day under the influence of Irish living there (similarly to how Mardi Gras was adopted in Louisiana due to the influence of French immigrants there), and many of these celebrations had their start quite long ago, as in the example of Montreal, Canada’s annual parade, which began in 1824, while St. Patrick’s Day commemoration has been held there since at least 1759. In Japan, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in 1992 and some events related to St. Patrick’s Day spread across almost the whole month of March!

This day is commemorated with public parades, festivals, ceilithe (Gaelic gatherings), the wearing of green or shamrocks, attendance of church services, and the lifting of Lenten restrictions on eating and alcohol—hence the association of alcohol consumption with the holiday. In fact, similarly to Shrove Tuesday (more popularly known in the U.S. by its French name, “Mardi Gras”), the festivities of St. Patrick’s Day have morphed into a very unchristian celebration wherein “They’re not so much honoring a saint as they are a reflection of embarrassing displays of drunkenness and increasing amounts of commercialism.” (Source.) Furthermore, due to its association with rampant drunkenness and related crime, a law was passed in Ireland in 1903 that required pubs and bars to be closed on 17 March every year, but this was repealed in 1961. St. Patrick’s Day Crosses, which became popular during the World War I era, are also a common tradition on this day, though their origin is uncertain.


St. Patrick’s Day always falls during Lent. On this day, most of the traditional practices involve the lifting of Lenten restrictions.

  • Fashion (Traditional). Wear green on this day, whether a green outfit or green accessories.
  • Celebrate (Traditional). During Lent, festivals are prohibited. However, on this day, they are permitted. Host or attend a party, parade, or other festival.
  • Drinks (Traditional). One of the prohibitions during Lent that is permitted on St. Patrick’s Day is alcohol. If you are so inclined, go to a good pub nearby and drink an Irish alcoholic beverage. Non-alcoholic beverages commonly drunk in Ireland include virgin lemonades of all shades. Consider drinking some green lemonade!
  • Food (Traditional). On this day, you may take a break from your Lenten fast. Although there are no foods specifically associated with St. Patrick’s Day, you may consider eating foods that are traditional to Ireland. Some options include:
    • Breads & Desserts: barmbrack, blaa, goody, soda bread, wheaten bread, potato bread, or veda bread
    • Potato Dishes: boxty (potato pancake), champ (mashed potato, scallions, butter, and milk), colcannon (mashed potatoes with either cabbage or kale), or shepherd’s pie or cottage pie (mashed potato, minced lamb/beef, and vegetables)
    • Pork Dishes: bacon and cabbage, black pudding (made from pigs’ blood), coddle (pork sausage, bacon, and potato), crubeens (pigs’ feet), or skirts and kidneys (pork stew)
    • Others: oatmeal, Irish stew (lamb and mutton), drisheen (a black pudding made from mixed animals’ blood), or Irish breakfast (which may include bacon, pork sausages, fried eggs, white pudding, black pudding, toast, fried tomato, sautéed field mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, liver, and/or brown soda bread)


Another obvious one… we will create a shamrock.

  • Knitting Patterns. Choose the one you like best from the following.
    • “Mitered Leaf Shamrocks” by Vickie Howell (here) (the small version is 2.5 inches, so just the right size)
    • “Cloverly” by Laura Brown (here) (these are about 3 inches each, so just the right size)
  • Crochet Patterns. Choose the one you like best from the following.
    • “One Piece Crochet Shamrock” by Jan Baxter (here) (this one measures about 3” x 2.5”, so it’s the perfect size)
    • “Gotta be Green” by Ginny Blankenship (here) (this one measures approximately 2 inches across; the length is not listed but is greater than the width, so it’s probably the appropriate size)
    • “Shamrock” by Elizabeth Woodward (here) (this one is about 3.5 x 3.5 inches, so a little too big, but it might be the proper size if you used smaller yarn and a smaller hook)
    • “Shamrock and Clover Applique” by Patricia Eggen (here) (This one is about 1.5 inches, so about half the largest size I’m recommending for the ornaments. Also note that there are both three-leaf and four-leaf options; recall that the four-leaf clover is NOT a St. Patrick’s Day tradition since legend tells that St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, so I strongly recommend creating the three-leaf clover.)





Footnote 1: Saint Patrick and the Snakes. You may have noticed that in the image of Saint Patrick, he is pointing at a bunch of snakes. In most images I found of him, he’s doing the same thing. This is due to a myth of him banishing snakes from Ireland. Apparently, no species of snakes are native to Ireland (scientists believe snakes have never been present in post-glacial Ireland), and a legend arose to explain their absence. The legend states that Patrick was undertaking a 40-day fast on top of a hill when he was attacked by a bunch of snakes. St. Patrick responded by banishing them and chasing them into the sea, after which snakes were absent from Ireland. However, snakes are also associated with the pagan Irish Gaelic Druids, and it has been suggested that this legend is more of a symbolic story of Saint Patrick’s core mission in Ireland.