Just a few days ago we commemorated a great saint of our Greek Orthodox Church, Saint Spyridon the wonderworker. Many of you may remember and may still keep on the tradition of planting seeds in a glass bowl on December 12, the feast of Saint Spyridon. I remember vividly as a youngster and well into my teens, preparing cotton and carefully layering such in a variety of glass bowls and planting a concoction of seeds ranging from white beans, grains, lentils to chick peas and even rice. Carefully watering the plants daily and watching the seeds sprout to full fledged plants and decorating around the Christmas tree with the Chia like bowls and having a contest amongst siblings, family and friends as to who will grow the best plants come Christmas. Although the custom may have faded out and no longer practiced or even known about in many Greek Orthodox homes of our modern times, the roots and meaning of this custom is rooted deep across the Pan Orthodox world, way before Walgreens sold us Chia plants.
While in the Greek Orthodox world December 12 was chosen as the day to sow, it also I am sure had to do allot with “Spyridon” and the Greek action “Spyro” which means I sow. That and the timing being 12 days before Christmas, just in time for the sprouts to grow full cycle I am sure are synonymous. But the sprouts represent offshoots that have broken open to release the shoots of new life – a biblical metaphor for Jesus’ death and resurrection taken from the Gospel of John.
As you scout the pan Orthodox landscape you will discover that this tradition of seeding, planting and sprouting grains indoors is a Christmas tradition that holds the same roots, meaning and message regardless of geography. The Serbian Orthodox, Balkan and Russian Orthodox Churches which keep to the Old Calendar date of Jan. 7, the seeds are planted in a bowl Dec. 19, Saint Nicholas Day, and watered after a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Waiting for them to grow is a spiritual exercise.
A recent article I read in the Pittsburgh Gazette, quoted a Serbian Yiayia saying; “…it is a fun way to pass the short, dark days waiting for the birth of Christ.”
As the days of Christmas have been transformed to frantic rushes to the malls, financial stress and Holiday not Christmas Parties, it is enlightening to lay back and reflect on the real events of Advent and the warm fuzzy customs that are the real days of Christmas. Centuries before Black Friday became our understanding of the start of the Christmas preparation season, there came Saint Barbara Day on December 4 and the first sign that the birth of Jesus, that’s Christmas by the way, was twenty one days away. Then came Saint Nick’s day. A definitive line in December and significant kick off point of Christmas time. Followed by Saint Spyridon and the parade of holy martyr Saints of December. Of course this was necessary before Cyber Monday was a date in December. Saint Nick day is a topic in itself, unanimously celebrated across Europe and the Christian world and the synonym between Jolly Saint Nick and modern day Santa Claus are definite calendar alerts that December 25 is about to dawn on us.
Our Church forefathers gave us Advent. A purposeful development of dates and events that customs developed around to joyfully and spiritually lead us to Christmas. As this Advent season winds down in the next few days, wouldn’t it be so soothing to depart the mall an hour earlier and reflect on the traditions of the season and be wowed by the many diverse yet similar customs amongst the Christian landscape which Christmas brings to life.
Merry Christmas to all.