How did Saint Stephen get his day in the calendar?
The 25th of December was a holy day in Ancient Rome. As late as 274 AD, Emperor Aurelian determined that on this date, the sun god “Sol Invictus” should be celebrated. The first reported usage of the word “Christmas” in a Christian context can be dated back to the 12th century. Looking at religion and calendar dates, things were not as easy as they seem…
Christians in ancient times did not know the birthdate of Jesus – and there was no date of birth indicated in the Bible either. It was assumed that day before the winter solstice was to be the day when the Messiah was born, and it was also seen as the first day of creation. Today, the winter solstice happens during the night of 21st December. However, when the Julian calendar was established in 47 BC, the date was set for 25th December.
The sun god
It is clear that 25th December was taken over as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus because this date already marked the celebration of the sun god Sol Invictus, providing a solid base. An anonymous Roman chronicler wrote: “Heathens celebrate the birthday of the sun on 25th December and use light to do so. They often invited Christians to these rituals. When the Church elders saw how many Christians could be persuaded to join these feasts, they decided to celebrate the true birth of Jesus on the same date.”
There have been heated discussions throughout the ages about the continuity between Sol worship and Christian tradition. It is clear that nobody knows exactly when Jesus was truly born. If he was born at all, that is – regarding this debate, the facts are also (up until now) anything but certain. The Flavius Josephus reports to back up the reality of Jesus are heavily disputed as well.
As you might know, there is also the Catholic Saint’s calendar, which links one, two, sometimes even three Saints to almost every day of the year. The 24th December, according to this calendar, was Tarsilla’s day – and the day of Adam and Eve. The 25th December is empty, and on 26th December, we celebrate Saint Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity. Today, we celebrate the apostle John, who was Jesus’ favourite apostle and authored a gospel as well as the so-called Book of Revelation. But how do the Saints get their days – or the other way round?
Dates of deaths and births
The first thing to know is that the early followers of Christianity (in all its forms) were not interested in the births of their martyrs but their dates of death instead. These were written down – more or less accurately, sometimes rather freely – in chronicles. They served one major purpose, namely to answer the question on which day which martyr should be celebrated during mass. Nevertheless, the (sometimes assumed) birthdays of a few Saints are celebrated as well.
The Saints’ calendar as we know it today was created in the 16th century. On the basis of the so-called “city calendar of Rome”, 158 Saints’ days were established. Pope Pius V. was the driving force behind this decision. At the Council of Trient (1568-1570), this and other reforms were made. This new calendar formed the basis of the Catholic Church’s Latin liturgy up until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1969. The basic order of the Church Year and new Roman General Calendar were introduced at that time. There was an attempt to organise individual calendars according to countries, cultures, and religious traditions. This is why there are various regional Saints’ calendars today. And through canonisation, new Saints are added from time to time.
Now, you may ask yourself why Saint Stephen’s (or Stephanus) day was celebrated yesterday. This is simply because the Second Vatican Council established it that way – before, Stephen was celebrated on 7th May and 3rd August. The Greek-Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Stephen on 27th December and the Serbian-Orthodox Church on 9th January. Your next question could be: Did this Stephen really exist? The answer is that we cannot tell you for certain – because again, the sources are extremely doubtful in this case.
The most absurd motions submitted to Basel’s town hall
The government did not believe that renaming Basel to “Eric-Weber-Stadt” was such a good idea. This year was no exception when it comes to some of the strange and bizarre motions and campaigns which went on in Basel.
Eric Weber remains the uncrowned king of absurd parliamentary motions in Basel’s town hall. The former Grand Council member (who was not re-elected in 2016) described himself as the most “active” politician and wrote on his Internet profile: “Eric Weber launches about 20 parliamentary motions per month. He therefore is a Swiss record holder.” While Basel’s government never really lost its nerve when dealing with Mr Weber, its answers tended to become shorter over time. When Mr Weber asked: “Would it be possible that the public should vote on a name-change from ‘Basel’ to ‘Eric-Weber-Stadt’?”, the government’s answer was rather humourless: “We discourage from doing so.
Since Basel is still called Basel, Mr Weber must have followed this smart suggestion. But of course, other government members are also diligent – at the moment, Green party members are particularly noticeable. For example, Raphael Fuhrer wishes that Basel’s citizens paid more attention to vegetables. He therefore suggests to the government that the city gardeners inform Basel citizens when potatoes are harvested.
His Green party colleague Michelle Lachenmeier was on holidays in Spain and in Iceland and now wishes for three-dimensional zebra crossings. “The idea is simple and striking in its combination of functionality and art. Three-dimensional zebra crossings appear to be floating, and drivers approach them more carefully and slower that way.” While this sounds great, it is rather unfortunate that a Basel-specific zebra crossing would be needed because the three-dimensional crossings cannot be seen at night. The government will have to discuss the matter.
For Martina Bernasconi, the town halls’ rules of conduct are not ceremonial enough. This is why she wants to introduce a vow. Looking at increasing cases of indiscretion towards the media, Mrs Bernasconi believes that parliamentary members do not take their jobs serious. She therefore writes: “The introduction of a vow or an official oath would be a good possibility to become aware of the tasks and duties of a Grand Council membership.” She even provides a text for the vow: “I pledge to fulfil the duties of my position with diligence.” This will certainly help!
And Basel would not be Basel if there weren’t any issues with bicycles. This time, it is about the town hall’s courtyard that Liberal Democrat politician Heiner Vischer is concerned about. More cyclists means more chaos, and while the bicycle stand still has a name plaque, the stand itself has been long gone. “And we should not forget the various tourists who certainly aren’t happy about such a bike chaos.”
His colleague Beat Leuthard, on the other hand, feels the cold. He writes: “The foyer of the Grand Council hall needs an adequate infrastructure, in particular a good protection from the draft and the cold.” Mr Leuthard admits that the Grand Council hall (where Grand Council members should be) itself offers good climatic conditions – but in the foyer, it is much too cold.
Some other matter is still missing, right? Yes: the trees. Basel’s trees are a continuous political problem. Grand Council member Lea Steinle states that the increasing number of citizens in Basel-Stadt should result in more trees. “This is why the canton ought to plant one additional tree for every new apartment, or install corresponding green spaces or living walls.” This all sounds rather complicated – and it probably is.
But let us be reminded of Eric Weber. Because things could be much, much worse. One time, Mr Weber asked the government: “Are refugees responsible for the pigeon pest? Which countries do the pigeons come from? Since when do the animals live in Basel? Is this the year 1251 or 1351?” The government is still discussing this comparatively new motion. Because of course it is very important to know when pigeons first showed up in Basel.