All Saints Day

November 1

Every day of the Catholic calendar honors at least one Saint.

But for all those Saints who just weren’t saintly enough to get their own day, there’s All Saints Day.

Okay, not exactly.

Medieval liturgists traced All Saints Day in the Catholic Church to the consecration of the Pantheon, originally a pagan temple built by Emperor Hadrian around 125 AD. The Pantheon honored the Roman, well, Pantheon (literally, “All Gods”.)

On May 13, 609 or 610, the Pantheon was consecrated by Pope Boniface IV in the name of the Virgin Mary and All Martyrs. The date, May 13, may harken back to the old festival Lemuralia, during which Romans remembered the dead and cast out restless spirits.

In the 730s Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel at St. Peters Basilica on November 1 and declared it an annual holy day. The chapel housed the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.

St. Peters Basilica is believed to be the burial place of Saint Peter himself. This, the most famous place of worship in Christendom was built beside the “Circus” of Caligula, where the Emperor Nero organized mass executions of Christians beginning in 65 AD.

St. Peter was crucified there (upside-down) at the site in 67 AD. Today the Vatican City’s Colonnade surrounds what was once the notorious Circus, its center marked by an enormous Obelisk brought to Rome after the conquest of Egypt.

Some historians attribute the November 1 date to the church’s desire to supplant regional harvest festival holidays devoted to the dead, such as the Celtic Samhain.

Today All Saints Day glorifies the memory of those souls, known and unknown, who have found a place in heaven.

For all those stuck in Purgatory, there’s All Souls Day

Mother Teresa Day – Albania

October 19

“If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are…

“What approach would I use? For me, naturally, it would be a Catholic one…What God is in your mind you must accept. But I cannot prevent myself from trying to give you what I have…”

Mother Teresa

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, Albania (now Macedonia) between the Ilinden anti-Ottoman Uprising and the outbreak of the First World War.

At age 8, her father died. At 18, she moved to Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto, with whom she began her monastic training in India the following year. Agnes chose the name Teresa, after Teresa of France, the patron saint of missionaries who died in 1897 at age 24.

Sister Teresa taught students at the Loreto convent school in Calcutta for several years. On September 10, 1946, on her annual retreat to Darjeeling, she felt the call of God, telling her to work not within the confines of the school, but among the sick and poor of the streets.

She exchanged her convent habit for a simple cotton chira, became an Indian citizen, and continued to help the poorest of the poor for nearly 50 years. She established the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to help “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society…”

The Missionaries currently operate over 600 missions in 123 countries.

I don’t think there is anyone else who needs God’s help and grace more than I do…I need His help twenty-four hours a day. And if days were longer, I would need even more of it.

Mother Teresa

Today, Mother Teresa’s homeland of Albania honors her with a national holiday. October 19 is the anniversary of the day in 2003 that she was beatified by the Vatican.

“Christ will not ask how much we did but how much love we put into what we did.”

Mother Teresa

“Do not imagine that love to be true must be extraordinary. No, what we need in our love is the continuity to love the One we love.”


September 29

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter’s rent
They bring some fowle at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmasse a capon, at Michaelmasse a goose;
And somewhat else at New-yeres tide, for feare their lease flie loose.

Gasciogne, Posies (1575)

September 29 is the Feast Day of the Archangel St. Michael and All Angels.

The archangel Michael is featured prominently in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as apocryphal writings such as the book of Enoch. The appeal of the Archangel spread throughout Christendom during the Middle Ages. Perhaps because of his position as the leader of the army of angels in Revelation, Michael became the patron saint of knights, whom fighters called upon in times of battle.

He is also the “good guy” Angel of Death–the one with wings and a scale, not with a black cloak and scythe. Michael’s symbolic scale was believed to weigh the souls of the recently deceased, to determine their worthiness in heaven. Fittingly, St. Michael’s Feast falls during the zodiac sign of Libra, the scales.

The medieval painting above shows St. Michael's scales, weighing the soul of a tiny figure hoping to enter the kingdom of heaven. The devil weighs down the scale on the left while the Virgin Mary weighs down the right with a rosary.

Just as the figure of Michael replaced pagan deities such as the Germanic Wotan (Norse Odin) and the Greek Hermes during the conversion of Europe, his feast day on September 29 replaced nature-based celebrations of the autumnal equinox and the harvest. During the Middle Ages, the equinox fell on or around September 29.

In England, Michaelmas was one of the four quarter days by which debts and suits had to be settled, falling roughly on the solstices and equinoxes: Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer Day (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29) and Christmas (December 25).

Geese, which were fat and hardy this time of year, were often given to landlords and creditors as part of repayment. Goose became the traditional meal of Michaelmas, and a symbol of good luck; hence the saying:

Whoever eats goose on Michaelmas Day
Shall never lack money his debts to pay

In the Church of Latter-Day Saints, before Michael became an angel, he was Adam, the first man. Jehovah’s Witnesses, meanwhile, believe that Michael and Jesus are but one and the same.

Michaelmas was considered the last day to safely eat the season’s blueberries.

…We’ll pick in the Mortenson’s pasture this year.
We’ll go in the morning, that is, if it’s clear,
And the sun shines out warm; the vines must be wet.
It’s so long since I picked I almost forget
How we used to pick berries: we took one look round,
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground…

from Blueberries by Robert Frost

La Tomatina

Last Wednesday in August
August 31, 2011
August 29, 2012

364 days out of the year, Buñol is a quiet, ordinary Spanish town country nestled in the foothills of the Valencia mountains about 40 kilometers from the Mediterranean coast; its population is just shy of 10,000.

But if you happen to visit Buñol on the last Wednesday of August, don’t wear your finest. You will notice that the population has tripled in size, the bulk of these tens of thousands have amassed along a few narrow streets, and they’re all engaged in a peculiar activity: throwing tomatoes.

Lots of tomatoes.

Over a hundred TONS of tomatoes.

La Tomatina is essentially the world’s largest food fight. (Although the Great Kettering Elementary School Food Fight of 1986 comes close.)

We wish we could say La Tomatina originates from an ancient pagan fertility rite, but it’s only 60 or so years old. Stories of the festival’s origin vary. Combining them would sound like this:

During a Gigantes y Cabezudos festival (the kind with the really big heads as featured in Borat) some rowdy spectators attempted to become participants, knocking over a big-head-carrying procession member in the process. A scuffled ensued among the hot-tempered youths.

Now, the people of Buñol had always enjoyed throwing things at each other. And fortunately for posterity, a truck or cartload of tomatoes had overturned just prior this auspicious occasion, providing the feuding parties with the perfect ammunition.

The following year authorities hoped to stem a repeat of the disaster, but the veterans of the previous year had some unfinished business to attend to.

The activity was first sanctioned by Town Hall in 1950. It was permitted and prohibited intermittently over the next few years. It got out of hand in 1956, townspeople got hurt, and it was canceled the following year. Some folks held a Tomatina Funeral instead. The festival was brought back by popular demand in 1959–but with regulations*–and they’ve been throwing tomatoes ever since.

Yes, La Tomatina started out as a Buñol style gang war. Perhaps in the States, if we armed our inner-city youths with tomatoes (in LA, avocados) we would attract tourists instead of violence.

As it is, in Buñol tens of thousands of tourists flock to La Tomatina each year. The festivities begin with the scaling of the “soap pole”. A ham is stuck atop a tall greased pole, and the tomato throwing can’t begin until a brave crowd member retrieves it.

*If you go, it’s considered proper Tomatina etiquette to squish your tomato before hurling it. Don’t bring bottles or anything that could cause injury, and be careful not to rip other people’s clothes. And it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing red or not. You will be.

La Tomatina


One writer’s horrifying story:

“Our red tornado became an inexorable hurricane. It was becoming difficult to stand upright in so much slush and with so many wet missiles impacting from every possible direction. We blotted out the sun and sky…I had become one vast squelching mound of pulped tomato…

Seeing Red — Louis de Bernieres

What To Do With Your Extra Tomatoes

Beheading of St. John

August 29

August 29 is the remembrance of the beheading of St. John the Baptist in the Catholic calendar.

John was the revolutionary religious leader foretold the coming of Christ and who baptized Christ in the Jordan River.

St. John enraged King Herod’s wife, Queen Herodias. Herodias was the widow of Philip, King Herod’s brother. St. John publicly expressed his contempt at the union. The Queen wanted St. John executed, but Herod refused. St. John’s popularity in Judea was too great. Instead King Herod threw him in prison.


At King Herod’s birthday celebration, his step-daughter danced for him and his guests…

…and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison.

Matthew 14:6

Said Jesus of John:

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Saint Monica

August 27
There is no more pathetic story in the annals of the Saints than that of Monica…
The Catholic Encyclopedia
Take Wilshire Blvd west all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and just before you crash over the cliff above PCH, you will have run over a white statue that serenely overlooks the bay that bears her name.
Saint Monica statue, Santa Monica, CA

Monica of Hippo was born in Tagaste (present-day Algeria) around 332 AD. She is the mother of St. Augustine, who despite his blessed prefix, lived a life of debauchery and licentiousness almost up until his poor mother’s death.

After her husband died, Monica traveled from Africa to Rome to pay her son a visit.

There is no more pathetic story in the annals of the Saints than that of Monica pursuing her wayward son to Rome, whither he had gone by stealth; when she arrived he had already gone to Milan, but she followed him. Here she found St. Ambrose and through him she ultimately had the joy of seeing Augustine yield, after seventeen years of resistance.

The Catholic Encyclopedia

At age 33, Augustine converted to Christianity, renounced his sinful ways, and went on to become one of the most influential Christian philosophers of all time. Having fulfilled her greatest hope, Monica began a journey back home to Africa with Augustine. She died on the way, in the town of Ostis. She was in her mid-50s.

On Saint Monica’s Day in 1769, Spanish explorers encountered a Native American village right around the area of today’s Wilshire Blvd, and gave the name to a nearby spring. Or, as a more romantic story goes, the spring’s water reminded them of the tears she shed for her son.

Saint Monica's Statue from above
Saint Monica statue from above

Today in California, Monica’s image watches over wayward children, including those souls who wander just left of the City of Angeles.

(Monica’s feast day was May 4 up until 1969, when the Vatican decided she was more of a summer gal and changed her feast to August 27. St. Augustine’s Day is August 28.)

Santa Monica: A History

Hungary – St. Stephen’s Day

August 20

Today Hungarians honor the founder of their nation. Over a thousand years ago King Stephen (that’s Saint Stephen to you) was crowned King of Hungary. Though a saint, King Stephen was not someone you’d want on your bad side. He once killed an opponent by having his eyes gouged out and pouring molten led into his ears. And that was his cousin.

King Stephen. No, its not a fro.
King Stephen. No, it's not a fro.

The whole molten-ear thing aside, he was considered a pious king, who imbued his dominion with Christian principles and established a Hungarian state very similar to the one still in existence. Even then Hungary was a multicultural nation, which the king encouraged:

“Foreigners coming from different countries and places to settle here bring with them a variety of languages, customs, instructive matters, and arms, which all contribute to adorn and glorify the royal court…A country speaking but one language, and where uniform customs prevail, is weak and fragile.”

King Stephen’s words have survived to this day. He once wrote to his son Emeric:

“Thou hast been brought up amidst delights and treasures, and knowest nothing of the arduous labors of war and the perils of hostile invasions by foreign nation, in the midst of which nearly my whole life has been passed.

The time has arrived to leave behind thee those pillows of luxuriousness which are apt to render thee weak and frivolous, to make thee waste thy virtues, and to nourish in thee thy sins…

…Rule over [thy subjects] peaceably, humbly, and gently, without anger, pride, and envy, bearing in mind that all men are equal, that nothing exalts more than humility, nor is there any thing more degrading than pride and envy.”

He forgot, however, to pass on the most valuable wisdom a parent can offer a child: “Ease off the boar hunting.”

Emeric was killed in a boar hunt accident in 1031–according to legend, on the same day he was set to inherit the kingdom. King Stephen never fully recovered from the loss.

Holy Crown of Istvan (Stephen)
Holy Crown of Istvan (Stephen)

For a man so blessed in other arenas, Stephen had poor fortune when it came to progeny. The father of the nation had no children of his own to take over the crown.

He died on August 15, 1038. His saint day is the following day in the Roman Catholic church: August 16. However, the Hungarians honor him on August 20–the anniversary of the date his remains were brought to Buda. It turns out that not only were Stephen’s words, his Christian piety and his principles preserved, so was his hand.

His right hand. And each year on St. Stephen’s Day Hungarians line the streets as the king’s surprisingly well-preserved 1000 year-old right hand is paraded through the capital.

Stephens right hand
King Stephen's handy relic

Saint Sithney – Patron Saint of Mad Dogs

August 4

On August 4, Cornwall, England celebrates the Feast Day of Saint Sithney, the patron saint of mad dogs.

Legend has it that the Lord Almighty asked good ol’ Sithney if he would be the patron saint of girls seeking husbands. Sithney politely declined the offer, fearing he would be besieged with prayers for rich hubbies and fancy jewelry and the whatnot. Instead, Sithney said he’d rather be the patron saint of something like mad dogs, and the request was granted.

Saint Roch (Sithney wasn't available for photoshoot)

August 4 is also the birthday of U.S. President Barack Obama. We know when he was born, but where exactly where he was born is at present a topic of heated debate, dominating the media coverage on conservative talk shows. It may be that one day a child will review the historical archives of August 2009 and be surprised that the question of Obama’s citizenship even existed, let alone monopolized the news cycle, between the death of Michael Jackson and the devastation of Hurricane Grace. But until that day, we wish the President good luck in his quest to prove he’s American, and we ask Sithney to hasten his healing efforts on certain unnamed talk show hosts.