While many know that December 24 is the feast day of Sts. Adam and Eve, many other memorials get lost amongst the greatness of the Nativity itself. Doubtless the saints so celebrated are joyful in being outshone by the Birth of Christ, but it behooves us now and again to remind one another of their lives and examples. The old martyrologies have been unfortunately truncated and skeptically edited over the centuries, so much so that we who read modern versions often wonder why Catholics in the Age of Faith loved these saints so much.
The Golden Legend treats the death of Adam as a foretaste of Christ’s Passion:
And in the end of his life when he should die, it is said, but of none authority, that he sent Seth his son into Paradise for to fetch the oil of mercy, where he received certain grains of the fruit of the tree of mercy by an angel. And when he came again he found his father Adam yet alive and told him what he had done. And then Adam laughed first and then died. And then he laid the grains or kernels under his father’s tongue and buried him in the vale of Hebron; and out of his mouth grew three trees of the three grains, of which trees the Cross that our Lord suffered his passion on was made, by virtue of which he got every mercy, and was brought out of darkness into very light of heaven.
On the 25th of December was St. Eugenia martyred. The post-Tridentine martyrology will concede nothing to her story except her virginity, her “enlisting bands of sacred virgins for Christ,” and her execution under Roman persecution; but the old hagiographies told much more interesting stories. In these, she snuck her way into a monastery disguised as a man, rose to the level of abbot, had a heartfelt reunion with her father after an unjust legal accusation, and survived many attempts at execution before she was finally beheaded.
But more dramatic than the holy virgin Eugenia was the story of the thousands martyred by Diocletian on Christmas Day. Even the divine office is not short on their praises, and deeply moving in its summary:
At Nicomedia, many thousand holy martyrs. Upon the feast of Christ’s birth they had come together unto the Lord’s house, and the Emperor Diocletian ordered the doors of the church to be shut, and all things made ready for fire round about it. Then he set a tripod and incense in front of the door, and sent an herald to proclaim in a loud voice that whosoever would escape burning should come forth and offer incense unto Jupiter. Whereunto they all replied with one voice, that they would far rather die for Christ’s sake, whereupon he kindled the fire and they were consumed, and were born in heaven upon that same day whereupon it had pleased Christ to be born into this world to save it.
This holocaust of martyrs composes the special cloud of witnesses on this night of nights when Our Lord Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh, born to suffer for our salvation. He said himself that “I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled?” The Christmas Martyrs are like a perpetual flame and glory of the Church, burning eternally before the heavenly altar with the most ardent love.
“And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”