Today is the feast of Saint Barbara. She was a great-martyr, that is someone who suffered terribly for her faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God. She is patron saint of miners and artillerymen, and against danger from lightning and explosions. While the story is a pious romance, like all these ancient tales, it contains elements of truth: a young woman who converted to Christianity against the wishes of her pagan father. For this, she was denounced before the Roman judges and condemned to a terrible death. Only Roman citizens like Saint Paul were allowed to die relatively kindly, by beheading. Everyone else was subject to deaths like these, and during vicious persecutions, the Christians could be tortured barbarously, in order to frighten the general populace: the Christians to recant their religion, and the pagans to be afraid of embracing it. But the love of Christ overcame all such threats, and the Faith endured.
It is an old German custom to take a twig from a flowering tree, especially cherry or peach, and put it into a glass of water. Set it by a warm window. When the branch blooms, put it either by the family altar or next to the Nativity set. What is the origin of this? In the legend, a tree blossomed suddenly, in the middle of winter, when Barbara was executed. The flowering is a reminder of her love for Christ, Whose coming we are preparing for now.
I will be posting St. Nicholas customs tomorrow. God bless you!
PS – here are detailed instructions as to how to do this right: http://www.gardena.com/int/garden-life/garden-magazine/cutting-st-barbara-twigs/