St. Thomas’s Day Date in the current year: December 21, 2022

St. Thomas’s Day Although the Roman Catholic Church has celebrated the feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle on July 3 since 1969, some Western Christian churches prefer the original date, which is December 21. In the countries where these churches are prevalent, St. Thomas’s Day traditionally ushers in the Christmas season.

When the feast of Saint Thomas was originally introduced in the 9th century, it was observed on December 21 to commemorate his martyrdom. In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church transferred the celebration on July 3 – the translation of Saint Thomas’s relics to Edessa – so that it wouldn’t interfere from Advent. However, members of a number of Western Churches, including the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church and the Hispanic Church, still celebrate Saint Thomas’s feast on December 21. For them, the celebration marks the beginning of the Christmas season.

Customs associated with St. Thomas’s Day reflect its proximity to both Christmas and the winter solstice. In rural England, children, the elderly and the poor used to go door to door asking for a little money to buy Christmas foods so that they could enjoy the holiday. This custom was referred to as “Thomasing”. In some parts of England, prosperous households gifted their less fortunate neighbors with grain, apples or ale in lieu of money. The custom of Thomasing arose in the 18th century and died in the early 20th century.

In some European countries, St. Thomas’s Day traditions focused on it being the shortest day of the year. They encouraged early rising and arriving at school or work as early as possible. In England and Belgium, students raced to school in order to arrive before teachers and lock them out. In Germany and the Netherlands, children who were the last to arrive at school were called Domesesel (“Thomas ass”).

In Austria, old pagan customs associated with the winter solstice conflated with the celebration of St. Thomas’s Day. People rang bells and made other loud noises to chase away the evil spirits. It was also customary for the head of the family to walk through the house sprinkling holy water, burning incense and praying to protect the rest of the family and servants. Similar customs existed in Germany and Czechoslovakia.

In the Nordic countries, St. Thomas’s Day was regarded as the first day of the Christmas season. All Christmas preparations, from slaughtering and firewood chopping to ale brewing and baking, should have been finished by December 21. The tradition isn’t followed as strictly anymore, but the Helsinki Christmas Market at the Senate Square is still referred to as St. Thomas Market (Tuomaan Markkinat), even though today it starts well before St. Thomas’s Day.

The feast day of Saint Thomas is a big deal in the Guatemalan town of Chichicastenango because Thomas the Apostle is the town’s patron saint. It is a week-long celebration that culminates on December 21. Like many South American festivals, the feast is an amalgamation of indigenous and Catholic traditions; it features bright costumes, masks, parades, dancing, firecrackers, and street vendors.

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Religious Holidays, Folk Festivals

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St. Thomas’s Day, religious holidays, folk festivals, Thomas the Apostle, feast of Saint Thomas