December 27 is the feast of Saint John the Apostle & Evangelist.
Freemasons claimed that "Those artificial distinctions which societies introduce, Masonry obliterates." But, in fact, 18C women were not allowed in their meetings. But as the following narrative shows, they did plan for a supper & a ball to be given to the ladies during the holiday season.
Freemasons historically celebrate two feasts of Saint John. The feast of John the Baptist falls on 24 June, & that of John the Evangelist on 27 December. The Saints John are the patron saints of the Masonic order. Two days after Christmas in 18C Virginia, Masons (dressed in full Masonic regalia) often held a procession from their lodge to a local parish church on Saint Johns Day to hear a special sermon on the blessings of love, unity, fraternity, wisdom, & brotherhood. President George Washington was a Mason and so was fellow Virginian & later president James Madison.
Many other leaders of the American Revolution, including Paul Revere, John Hancock, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Boston Tea Party saboteurs, were also Freemasons. Other Presidents known to be Masons included James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford.
Visiting Fredericksburg on December 27, 1774, John Harrower, a Scottish tutor, noted in his journal: "St Johns Day. This Day a Grand Lodge in Town, And the whole went to Church in their Clothing & heard Sermon."
After the service the American Masons continued to celebrate Saint Johns Day often attending a supper & ball with their wives. In 1778, the preparation for Saint Johns Day was noted by the minutes of the Williamsburg Lodge:
December 1, 1778
•On a motion made respecting the ensuing Saint John the Evangelist it was after mature consideration resolved that as that Feast falls on Sunday the usual Ceremonies be postponed until Monday.
•Resolved: That this Lodge meet on Monday after the ensuing Saint John & go in procession to Church & that the Reverend Brother Madison (James) be requested to preach a sermon on the occasion.
•Resolved: That this Lodge meet on Monday Afternoon to spend the Evening together & that a Ball be given to the Ladies & that Brother Charlton (Edward) be desired to provide accordingly.
A Solemn Charge delivered by the Chaplain of the lodge, the Reverend Brother James Madison (later to become the 4th President of the United States) to the Brethren of the Williamsburg Lodge of Masons at Bruton Parish Church on Monday the 28th of December 1778 A.D., 5778 A.L., being the day approved for the celebration of the High Festival of Holy Saint John the Evangelist. Brothers, Though I once had the pleasure of addressing you from this place upon a similar occasion, yet the present opportunity affords me the most real satisfaction. The spirit of Masonry has revived amongst us & of consequence social & brotherly love. I do not rejoice that the mere name of Masonry, or its parade, or form, has revived, but there is a pleasing satisfaction which the heart of a good man must ever feel in beholding those principles to diffuse their God like influence which tend to break the natural ferocity of Man, to meliorate his temper, to establish universal benevolence, to expand the golden wings of charity; this is the spirit of Masonry, upon these pillars it is founded & upon them alone, may if long flourish amongst us...
Man, created by the great Author of all things was formed for equality. Those artificial distinctions which societies introduce, Masonry obliterates. Following nature as her guide, she extends her arms to all, whether the humble cottage be their lot, or whether raised to the most exalted station; benevolence, integrity & charity are the only discriminations that she knows, & these are such as nature herself have established. Pride, arrogance & ambition are the hostile foes which Masonry has to contend with. Their banners are seen displayed in every part, nay too often triumphant over misery & distress. They, regardless of primitive equality, or of the rights of Man, spread calamity wherever they appear, oppression is the iron rod by which Man is forced in the anguish of his soul to curse that existence which only prolongs his pain...His squalling nature has become the demon of affliction. His cries, his supplications are returned with the weight of accumulated woe, nothing remains but disdain. Even hope, the last asylum of the wretched, is fled. Such are the evils which those malignant passions often inflict upon too many of the human race. Where then is the refuge, the haven of safety? Where then the barrier against this torrent of misery? Christianity. Her voice, like the mild dew upon the tender herbs which the morning sun dissipates, is lost amidst the clamor of those turbulent passions. Her prospects are extended through the long vista of futurity, her rewards or her punishments wait suspended until death, closed the transitory scene. Her lessons of humanity seldom reach the hearts of those whom the wretched have most to fear. Where then, may I not once more ask, is the asylum for honest misery? Charity, that daughter of heaven, It is hers alone to mitigate the calamities of our Brethren, to wipe away the tears of misfortune. It is charity which can alone oppose that torrent of misery which so often overwhelms the honest, the incautious heart. It is Charity which must defeat the havoc which ambition & injustice would spread around. It is charity which rears the abject mind, diffuses peace wherever she arrives, smooths the rough paths of peevish nature & opens in each heart a little heaven...A good Mason will therefore consider charity at the first great essential to render him worthy of that appellation. Intercourse is the natural disposition of man & hence we see them forming particular societies. He will consider himself as the friend of human nature. He will ever bear in mind that it is his duty & profession to relieve a brother in distress wherever found; to be a father to the orphan, a friend to the captive, or like the great author of all things to diffuse benevolence on every object which claims pity or compassion. Whilst charity therefore is that power which cements our union, Masonry must ever remain one of the noblest of institutions...Friendship alone whilst man travels the thorny path of life affords a consideration which can alone render life happy or desirable. The heart of man wants some object to whom it may communicate its feelings & can have no complete enjoyment without participation. It is upon the sensibility & benevolence of others that we greatly depend for our happiness. But this sacred union can only subsist when the social & generous affections exist. Honor & immovable virtue is the basis of friendship. It is a gentle flame that illuminates only the hearts of the good. It is a tender flower that will never flourish in the cold & barren soil of selfishness & avarice. No man will deserve the honorable title of a true friend who does not interest himself in every event which happens to his friend. The true friend participates in the joys, the miseries, the calamities or the misfortunes which arise, & by participating increases the joy or diminishes the pain. The richest blessings heaven could bestow would lose more than half their value if we had no companion to share in our happiness. Adam placed in Eve, where all nature conspired to render him happy, where new pleasures courted every sense, found solitude insupportable, a friend was necessary to render even these joys a real happiness. Masonry therefore promotes the real happiness of mankind; whilst it promotes friendship & harmony. But it requires honor & virtue, both private & public, to render it permanent or lasting...The views of Masonry are noble & truly Christian, but unless its members possess the true spirit, unless virtue & honor be the cornerstones, they will rear a fabric which will neither possess beauty or order, which can only bring disgrace on the unskillful architects. The pleasures or the happiness which it affords will be like a sudden blaze streaming from the north, which plays a moment on the eye, mocks the traveler with the hope of light & then vanishes forever. But when charity, friendship, virtue & integrity diffuse their constant uninterrupted influence on its members Masonry might show human nature in its greatest perfection...The heart of man perhaps is no less strongly attracted to society than the earth to the sun. Happiness is our beings end & aim. The pursuit of it is indeed as various as the candidates for so important a prize. Yet it must ever be found to terminate at last in the approbation of the member of that society to which we belong. The conduct which secures that approbation establishes happiness. What are all those gay declarations which power, ambition or wealth offer to their votaries? They soon pall upon the sense, soon outlive the transient joys they were supposed to bring. While the friend of man meets with pleasure, happiness & joy in the friendship he experiences from every Brother. Examine the constitution of the human mind, the cause is developed. We see that it is endued by its maker with principles of a social as well as of a private & personal kind. The happiness of each individual is wisely connected with that of the species & thus a universal dependence is established among mankind. Is it not the voice of nature which inspires such as are connected in the relations of domestic life, with that mutual affection, which forms the most indissoluble union, & which becomes a sconce of those pleasures & endearments the most exquisite human nature can receive. Is it not still the voice of nature which prompts us to look beyond the bounds of domestic connections & to interest ourselves in the public weal? Is it not the voice of nature, which calls forth the emotions of sympathy & compassion, when we behold a fellow creature in distress? And is it not still the voice of nature which expects the laudable emulation to perform those actions which at length may obtain the approbation of our brethren. The good Mason will therefore invariably promote the happiness, the interests & general welfare of every honest brother. “By this shall all men know, that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another.” But ye whose profession is friendship & charity; ye whose object it is to follow the example of the father of the universe in communication happiness to all around; ye whose duty teaches you ever to hold forth the generous balm of consolation to your brother; ye who would render benevolence as extensive as creation itself, what greater reward can the human mind conceive than the satisfaction which must result from the internal feelings of your own hearts. This is a reward which will continue when every other pleasure shall forsake us for even under the greatest reverse of fortune or the heaviest pressures of affliction, the good Mason must at all times happy in the recollection of a life devoted to the service of fellow creatures. The remembrance of his good deeds will minister consolation to his soul, in that hour when the last farewell bursts from his dying lips whilst he leaves in grateful & affectionate hearts lasting monuments of his virtues. Conscious that he hath not lived to himself along, he will leave this world in peace & enter upon that Born from whence no traveler returns with a joyful hope, that when he rests from his labours, his works with follow him. Amen