On January 13th, I always think about a number of events that have occurred on this day during my life. Probably the most memorable was the death of my paternal grandfather in 1966 when I was 12 years old – about to turn 13 in February. I could go on and on about him, but the truth is that I didn’t know him nearly as well as my maternal grandfather and Grandpa Toussaint suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years before his death so my most recent memories of him included visits to the nursing home where he lived out the end of his life.
He died as a result of pneumonia that he contracted after wandering away from the “home” without a coat and with his weakened immune system, that was all it took to cause his death several days later. Dad was grief stricken beyond all description and I remember that it was the first time that I ever saw my father cry… it was that image that was burned into my brain during the funeral for Grandpa.
And then, today is the birthday of a friend that passed away a number of years ago from cancer. Roger was a great guy and I remember him each year on the anniversary of his birth. We both grew up in the Chicago area and we have watched each other’s children grow up. So, as you can tell, January 13th is something of a difficult day with all the memories that it holds.
But then I ran across something else that happened on January 13th and it puts an entirely different twist on the day. It seems that back on January 7, 1131, a political leader named Knut (also spelled Canute) was murdered by his rivals to supposedly prevent him from becoming more powerful. But the next several days were days of many miracles and, eventually, the Catholic Church changed his feast day to January 13th in recognition of his sainthood and elevation in stature.
Knut had led a complicated life. At one time, he was King of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden. When he first took over England, he was merciless in his treatment of people. Cutting off body parts of his victims was standard procedure until he found God and repented of his ways. He went on to join the church to make up for his cruelty and there was peace and prosperity in the land for approximately 18 years.
One of the things that he did was to proclaim that the Christmas season would last for twenty days and that nobody should fast during this period of time. Consequently, January 13th came to be known at St. Knut’s Day in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries. And, of course, January 13th is the 20th day after Christmas!
Tradition in Scandinavia states that January 13th is the day that all Christmas decorations get taken down. Historically, trees were decorated with candy and small toys that had to be left untouched until the tree was disposed of. In several countries, it was traditional for the children to eat the candy and the gingerbread houses while the tree itself was thrown out a window and burned outside. But before it was set ablaze, the family gathered around it and sang songs and celebrated the end of the Yuletide season. In other communities the tree was cut up and burned in the fireplace while the adults packed up the fragile ornaments and returned the house to normal until the next season of celebration. The entire house is swept out and even the walls are tapped with sticks to make sure that there are no left over bad vestiges of Christmas. Nowadays, trees aren’t decorated with as much candy so parties are thrown for the neighborhood and gifts, along with small candies, are given to the kids to celebrate.
In honor of St. Knut’s Day, the verse for this evening reminds us one last time of the reason for the season. Because we probably won’t hear the Christmas story again for another 11 months or so. The book of Luke gives us the Good News of the birth of Jesus. We are told, in Luke 2:10-12, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
My encouragement tonight is that God hopes that we celebrate the birth of His Son every day of the year, whether it is Christmas or not. My prayer is that we will keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts and that we will let God continue to transform our hearts, as He did with St. Knut, throughout all the days of our lives. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…