Martyrs exist in all three biblical religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). The most formalized of the three, Christianity, has created a hierarchy of saints, beginning with the earliest apostles and extending into the 20th century. Depending upon their popularity, saints can be canonized anywhere between three years later (St Thomas Becket) to hundreds of years later. Martyrs tend to be canonized sooner than other types of saints, but this is not always the case.

The most common early saints (the subject of this article), and also most powerful, in Christianity, were the martyrs. The willingness of martyrs to die for their faith when Christianity was reviled everywhere has given them a power through the history of Christianity that continues today. Christians continue to revere early martyrs like the apostle Andrew and later medieval martyrs like Thomas Becket.

Jewish martyrs range from ancient biblical times through the medieval era of Christian and Muslim persecution to the Holocaust. Some of the more contested Muslim Sufi saints, like Mansur Al-Hallaj and Shams ad-din Tabrizi, were executed or murdered for heterodox beliefs. In Christianity, political martyrs like Joan of Arc died for being too inspirational to their own side.

The Muslim lunar calendar, which shifts around the Western Gregorian calendar, has no correlation with the holiday season, but the Christmas season is in part a celebration of martyrs for both Judaism and Christianity. Hannukah is a Jewish celebration that commemorates a miracle in the life of Judah Maccabee, a second century B.C.E. Judean warrior who died in battle against invading Greeks. Meanwhile, five major Christian martyrs have their feast days during the Christmas season: St. Andrew the First Apostle (Feast day: November 30; died 70), St. Lucy (Feast day: December 13; died c.304), “Doubting” St. Thomas the Apostle (Feast day: December 21; died c.72), St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr (Feast day: December 26; died c.33) and St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury (Feast day: December 29; died 1170).