Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Today is December 4 and the feast day of St. Barabara, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers! There is a special Advent custom associated with this feast day—Barbarazweig—and we are excited to share it with you!
Who Is St. Barbara?
In the The Fourteen Holy Helpers, Fr. Bonaventure Hammer, O.F.M., writes:
St. Barbara was born in Nicodemia, Asia Minor to a pagan father who feared that his only child might learn to love Christianity, secluded her in a tower. Yet she did become a Christian because she spent her time in study and gazing at the heavens which spoke to her of the glory of God, which became a prayer for her, pleasing God so much that He bestowed on her the gift of holy faith. The fame of Origen, that famous Christian teacher in Alexandria, reached even the remote tower, and Barbara sent a trusty servant with the request that he would make known to her the truth. Origen sent her one of his disciples, disguised as a physician, who instructed and Baptized her. She practiced her new religion discreetly while waiting for a favorable opportunity of acquainting her father with her conversion. Her father was shaken to learn of his daughter's resolve, so he handed her over to the proconsul Marcian, who had her scourged and tortured, but without causing her to deny the Faith. During her sufferings, her father stood by, exulting in the torments of his child. Next night, after she had been taken back to prison, Our Lord appeared to her and healed her wounds. When Barbara appeared again before him, Marcian was greatly astonished to find no trace of the cruelties that had been perpetrated on her body. Again she resisted his importunities to deny the Faith, and when he saw that all his efforts were in vain, he pronounced the sentence of death. Barbara was to be beheaded. Her unnatural father claimed the privilege to execute it with his own hands, and with one blow severed his daughter's head from her body, on December 4, 237. When the Saint died a powerful storm arose, in which her father was killed by lightning, along with the proconsul.
Why Cherry Trees?
From Fish Eaters:
During her time in the tower, she kept a branch from a cherry tree which she watered with water from her cup. On the day of she was killed, the cherry branch she'd kept blossomed. From this comes "Barbarazweig," the custom of bringing branches into the house on December 4 to hopefully bloom on Christmas (some reserve the custom for the unmarried).
How Do Practice Barbarazweig?
Step 1: Find a cherry tree.
Step 2: Cut off one twig for each member of the family.
The goal is to find thin branches with swollen buds. From Fish Eaters:
Mash the ends and put the branches in a vase of cool, not icy, water with a little sugar in it for several hours. Leave branches for a few days in a cool place. As soon as the buds appear to swell bring them into a warm room (not too close to the source of heat). Spritz them from time to time with lukewarm water, and when the blooms appear, place the branches on a window sill to give them lots of light and keep them in cooler air so that the blooms will stay fresh longer. Change water every day. Once they are in full bloom, re-cut the stems and put them in water with a little sugar, a tiny bit of bleach, a penny and a dissolved aspirin.
Step 3: Watch what happens!
The goal is to have each bloom by Christmas, even better if on Christmas day. Whosever has the most blooms is "Mary's favorite". I am pretty good at killing plants (reference this post), so we'll see how it goes. Try it and have fun with this one!
Prayer to St. Barbara
Intrepid Virgin and Martyr, St. Barbara, through thy intercession come to my aid in all needs of my soul. Obtain for me the grace to be preserved from a sudden and unprovided death; assist me in my agony, when my senses are benumbed and I am in the throes of death. Then, O powerful patroness of the dying, come to my aid! Repel from me all the assaults and temptations of the evil one, and obtain for me the grace to receive before death the holy Sacraments, that I breathe forth my soul confirmed in faith, hope, and charity, and be worthy to enter eternal glory. Amen.
St. Barbara, at my last end Obtain for me the Sacrament; Assist one in that direst need When I my God and Judge must meet: That robed in sanctifying grace My soul may stand before His face.
St. Barbara, Ora pro nobis!