Mars is Making a List and Checking it Twice: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Dec 2, 2019

St. Nicholas of Myra lived in the 4th century and through his works, he gained the reputation as the Wonder Worker. Nicholas is the inspiration for Santa Claus, and while his feast day is celebrated on December 6th each year, it is the eve of his feast when secret gift-giving is practiced. Image by Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post, 1939.

On Friday, December 6, the red planet Mars will sweep into the scales of Libra, as though he were a right jolly old elf, slipping into position to weigh and balance the naughty and nice on his Christmas list. 

So on Friday, Mars will appear in the morning sky near the star Zubenelgenubi, the brightest star in Libra, and the best named-star in the whole sky! What’s more, Friday is December 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra. Nicholas lived in the 4th century and came to be known as the patron saint of children on account of his secret gift-giving, which later lent itself to the tradition of secretly placing gold coins in children’s shoes on the eve of his feast day.

St. Nicholas was also referred to as the Wonder Worker, Sinterklaas, and is the inspiration for modern depictions of Santa Clause. The festive mood of gift-giving that surrounded his feast day spread across the centuries and throughout Europe, until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th century. At that time, the leaders of the Reformation sought to do away with the cult of saints, in part by abolishing St. Nicholas festivities and changing the celebration of gift giving from the eve of St. Nicholas’ Feast to Christmas Eve ~ which was meant to teach that the Christ Child was the ultimate bringer of gifts, not the saints.

In this image from MSU's Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar, Mars can be seen approaching the alphas star in the constellation Libra. This star has the name Zubenelgenubi, and is one of the trays of the Libra scales, which Mars is using to measure the naughty and nice!

Still, if you watch our jolly old elf Mars thoughout December, you’ll see the red planet near Zubenelgenubi in Libra this week; then Mars will be visited by the waning crescent Moon on Winter Solstice; and on Christmas Eve, Mars will have slipped into the region of Scorpio underworld, where all the best secrets of the season can be found!