Happy Feast of St. Stephen! December 26 is a holiday in many European countries in honor of the saint who is considered the first Christian martyr. In other parts of the world (the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to be specific) it is celebrated as Boxing Day.
December 26 has many traditions attached to it. In Wales, the day traditionally included beating female servants with holly branches (seriously!). In Ireland, the feast of the wren is celebrated with straw hats and peasant garb. In Catholic parts of Germany the feast is celebrated with special masses and ceremonial horseback processions.
St. Stephen’s Day might be best known in my family as the setting for the Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas,” which recounts how the good king journeys through the harsh winter to give alms to a peasant on the fest of St. Stephen. When his page is unable to keep going in the cold, snowy terrain, the king instructs him to follow in his own footsteps as he leads him to safety.
Boxing Day, also celebrated December 26th, was traditionally the day that servants and tradesmen received a Christmas box in recognition of their service throughout the year, basically a precursor to today’s Christmas bonus. Because servants were required to serve on Christmas Day, they had their own family celebrations on the 26th.
Do you have traditions for St. Stephen’s Day? In our family, it tends to be a day of relaxation, the eating of leftovers, and playing with the new Christmas toys!
By Peg Kern
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