Dear Friends

We are all familiar with the festive song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', but perhaps less familiar with 'the eight days of Christmas' - 'the Octave'.

All major festivals of the Church have an octave - these tend not to be so much observed these days, but the octave of Christmas is quite useful as it takes us right up to that other seasonal celebration - New Year's Day. If we were to observe each of the eight days of Christmas, there would be a feast day for most of them.

On Boxing Day we remember St Stephen, the first Christian martyr (see Acts of the Apostles 7:55-60). There is probably no significance in the way this falls except that the first mention of his feast being celebrated on 26 December dates from the end of the fourth century. The inescapable inference which is often drawn is to point out that, after the day of joy and celebration of the birth of the Saviour, we are then reminded of the cost to his followers - to be a disciple of Christ is no easy route and for many over the centuries it has ultimately brought martyrdom. In the early years of the Church this was seen as a wonderful privilege - something which today we might find hard to accept.

On 27 December we acknowledge the writer of the fourth gospel, St John, the Apostle and Evangelist - the only apostle who is believed not to have been martyred. He gave us the indispensable definition of Christianity: 'The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us' (John 1:14). Then, on 28 December, the Holy Innocents are commemorated. They were victims of King Herod's wrath and misguided jealousy of the new-born king, who was no threat to him at all. Jesus and his family escaped death, but knew the alienation of exile.

The following day, on 29 December, we remember St Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was assassinated in his cathedral during the late afternoon of this day in 1170 - just about the time of Vespers.

T S Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral, is an interesting commentary on this event.

On 30 December, we commemorate Edwin, bishop of Worcester, who died in 717. He is best remembered as the founder of the important Benedictine monastery at Evesham. Finally, on 31 December, we remember three rather obscure, or perhaps we should say less well-known, saints: Columba of Sens, Melania the Younger and Pope St Silvester the First. It is rather unfair to call Silvester obscure for his life was filled with good and notable works, not least constructing the famous church of St John Lateran in Rome, which became his cathedral. It is still regarded as the Pope's cathedral today.

A very happy Christmas - and Christmas-tide - to you all.