On Remembering Birthdays

Just about a month after they honored her feast day, the church brings Mary back into focus, honoring her again today with The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The church only honors the birthdays of three people in the church calendar: Jesus, John the Baptizer, and Mary. And for each of these, the dates are chosen to reflect the seasonal calendar as a helpful tool in the rhythm of life.

Jesus’ birthday is put near the Winter Solstice, close to the pagan feast honoring “The Undying Sun,” when daylight was almost-but-never-fully gone. The people would use the sun, at a premium in those December days, as a reminder of the “resurrected son” of God who would never fail, despite all appearances.

John the Baptizer’s natal day was then placed six months out from that, coinciding not only with the story of the Visitation, but also with the Summer Solstice. That placement echoed John’s words “I must decrease so that he might increase.” From then on the sun begins to decrease until Christmas.

Mary’s natal day, September 8th, seems to be the odd duck in the lot, except for the fact that it falls in that “in-between” time of the year. September is a season that ushers in change, a bridge between the heat of summer and the breeze of Autumn. Perhaps that is one of the ways Mary is known best: as the change agent from what was to what will be.

It is also thought that September 8th was chosen because it was the day that St. Anne’s Church was completed in Jerusalem, sometime in the 5th Century. Lore has it that Mary’s mother was named Anne. The location of the church is supposedly the site where Mary was born. At the dedication of the construction it was said that angels could be heard singing to proclaim the day as her birth day. As early as the year 500, it appears from hymns and writings that the day was accepted as her natal day by the church in the East, and came to be accepted by the church in the West.

Despite the fact that there is a whole church erected on the supposed (though quite unfounded) site of her birth, and despite the fact that much lore has crept up around Mary, it’s worth recalling that she was, on the day of her birth, as much of an unknown as you or I, and in the eyes of the world was unremarkable.

Perhaps even a “nobody,” especially in the time and place of her birth.

Everyday similar “nobody’s” are born in this time and place, cast aside by public opinion, insurance corporations that don’t want to pay birthing fees, and social norms that judge not only how children are born, but when and to whom.

And yet she came to be the Theotokos. The “God-bearer.”

And I just have to wonder what the world would be like if we saw every child, every “nobody” in the eyes of the world, as a God-bearer. As a change-agent. As a conduit for the in-breaking of Divine action.

…bet we’d remember more birthdays.

-historical parts taken from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon by artist Jenn Casselberry