St. Barbara’s Day Wheat, December 4th

The Catholic Church has a rich history of liturgical traditions which have largely been lost or confined to places with a strong local devotion to a particular saint or holy figure. These devotional practices serve to enrich our everyday lives with the cyclical life of the Church. How better to teach children about the saints than through hands-on activities which revitalize the stories of their lives? Rather than allowing these traditions to fade into the forgotten past, we should make them an everyday reality. Here then is the tradition of wheat for St. Barbara’s Day:

St. Barbara’s Day is celebrated on December 4th. Barbara, born in the third century in present day Lebanon, was the daughter of a rich pagan named Dioscorus who kept her locked into a tower to preserve her from the suitors of the outside world. Unbeknownst to her father, Barbara converted to Christianity. 

When Dioscorus found a rich suitor who he believed to be acceptable, Barbara refused to marry him, having consecrated herself to Christ. One day, upon returning from a long journey, Dioscurus found that Barbara had had a third window built into the tower in honor of the Holy Trinity. Seeing this her father drew his sword in anger, determined to kill his once beloved child. St. Barbara jumped out of her tower window and fled. Upon being captured she was tortured for days on end by means of switches, lashes, iron hooks, the rack, torches, red-hot pincers and hammers. But every morning her torturers would return to find her healed. In order to put an end to it all, her father claimed the honor of cutting off the head of his daughter who had scorned the gods. It is said that upon returning home, Dioscurus was struck by lightning. 

From one of the details of this story, the tradition of St. Barbara’s Wheat was born. It is said that when fleeing persecution, Barbara ran through a newly planted field of wheat. As she ran, the wheat grew instantly covering her path and protecting her from those chasing her. And so, on December 4th, Catholics would plant wheat seeds in honor of St. Barbara. When the wheat had sprouted it would be used as decoration, either near the family nativity scene or on the Christmas table. In France and the Ukraine, the wheat seeds were planted in three small saucers to represent the Holy Trinity. 

Legend has it that if the wheat germinates well and is prolific, the year’s harvest will be plentiful. There is a traditional saying in Provençal: “Quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn bèn !”: If the wheat goes well, everything goes well!

How to plant St. Barbara’s Day Wheat: 

  1. Find a saucer or a plate with a lip. 
  2. Soak a piece of organic cotton in water. 
  3. Place the wet cotton in the saucer or plate. 
  4. Place the wheat seeds on top of the cotton. 
  5. Place them in a warm spot with indirect sunlight.

Part 2 Outdoor Adventure Series: Wyoming Catholic College

Wyoming Catholic College’s COR Expeditions; wyomingcatholic.org

The 4-part Outdoor Adventure Series will consist of essays written by students who participated in one of Wyoming Catholic College’s COR Expeditions: a 21-day backpacking trip infused with faith, community, virtue and beauty.

Choose Wisely by Emily Gecosky

Wild berries were our staple snack food during our time in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. They were our sustenance: our sweet antidote for the soggy bland oats, the crown of our backcountry apple pie, the rich carpeting of several campsites, and even fish food. I remember standing on a rock one day during our three week escapade, tossing small rosy berries onto the surface of the veiled yellow depths of Lake Vera. I watched them drift lazily, and within moments a little fish pounced upon one of the berries, sucking it up with a sudden plop.The other berries soon met their demises in this fashion. Moments ago the fish had been wandering the sandy floor of the lake, sucking on pebbles and spewing them out again, but they forgot about their pebbles when they noticed the berries.

How like these fish we as human beings are: searching, foraging, grabbing at good things when we perceive them— perhaps for better things than we had before, as the fish abandoned their pebbles for the sake of berries. But what if they weren’t good— what if the berries I threw to the fish were poisonous? They probably would’ve eaten them anyway, mistaking them for food. In the same way, I think we often judge incorrectly: that in our innate desire for good things we can end up taking what merely appears good, but what is not actually good, and that in our hunger we often don’t distinguish between good berries and poisonous ones. We are beings cursed by concupiscence, which is the moral tendency to veer off course as misaligned tires would cause a car to tend slightly to the left, needing constant correction. It is precisely this bi-product of the Fall which makes us confused and causes us to choose wrongly. I then remembered how C.S. Lewis put words to such confusion in his Screwtape Letters. In one of the letters, the demon Screwtape corresponds with a less experienced demon, instructing him in the fine art of corrupting people. He explains the subtle differences between kinds of joy and how to use them to their advantages. Screwtape says, “Fun is closely related to Joy— a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing: but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.

The Joke Proper, which turns on sudden perception of incongruity, is a much more promising field…” (Lewis, 50). The demons speak of a type of joy that will strengthen a person with good things versus a joy that will lead to their ruin— the difference between the good berry and the poisonous berry. People love and gravitate towards humor— why else are memes so popular? But in their desire for humor, they are prone to choosing the detrimental kind, a kind that will wound and degrade. A sad irony arises as well: even the demons are confused on what is “Enemy” and “evil”, as they use these words to refer to “God”, and to “goodness”. They have it flipped around.

My thoughts were interrupted by the chattering of chipmunks in the trees above me. There I stood, thinking deeply over something as insignificant as snacking fish. It wasn’t all that strange, since the day was especially set aside for this kind of meditation, for silence and self-reflection. A few hours in the presence of raw nature can turn anyone into a philosopher. With the day ahead of me, I kept tossing berry after berry, seeing the hungry mouths of fish breaking the surface of the glassy yellow water.