Feast of St. Stephen

December 13, 2022  |  By Peg Kern
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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.

St. Stephen, martyr. St. Gervais and Protais Church. Saint-Gervais Haute-Savoie. France.

St. Stephen, martyrdom. Church of Saint-Gervais-et-Protais. Saint-Gervais-les-Bains. Haute-Savoie. France.

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.

Christmas decorationsSt. 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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4 thoughts on "Feast of St. Stephen"

  1. Nathan says:

    The first king of Hungary was also named St. Stephen. While referred to as “Szent István Király” in Hungarian, King St. Stephen I, or just Stephen I of Hungary is often mixed up with the first Christian martyr. I’m assuming you are referring to the Deacon; the one who is also celebrated outside of Hungary, the one who died in 36 A.D. However the picture of the statue is of the king who was born some 900 years later. You can tell by the crown he is wearing on his head, under the halo.

    1. Peg Kern says:

      Thanks for pointing this out – I need to find a better picture!

  2. Nathan says:

    If you are not on a budget, I recommend dreamstime.

    If you prefer another image, just make sure to add the word “martyr” after “Saint Stephen”.

    Best of luck

    1. Peg Kern says:

      I found a more dramatic example. Thanks for pointing this out!

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