Here’s a Boxing day post I wrote a little while ago:
I would guess that most young people when asked about St Stephen’s Day would have no idea when it is or who he was… if they still sing the old Christmas carols, (as opposed to modern ‘contemporary’ ‘relevant’ jingles) they may, when prompted vaguely remember Good King Wenceslas wandering about ‘on the feast of Stephen’. Most people would know when Boxing day is and many would know the origin of the name. Boxing Day and St Stephen’s Day are of course the 26th December, the day after Christmas Day. Our family tradition was always to go and visit some family friends on Boxing day, just before lunch, have drinks, nibbles and delicious cheese puffs
St Stephen was the first Christian martyr and I guess that is all most people could say, but he was stoned to death, witnessed by St Paul. There are many customs and traditions in Europe which take place on the day after Christmas; St Stephen is the patron saint of some Eastern European countries, in Catalonia it is traditional to eat canalons, a sort of cannelloni filled with minced meat left over from Christmas Day. In Finland it all sounds very jolly and nice, sleigh rides, music, dressing up, getting married… yes Finland sounds a great place to be on Boxing Day!
One of the most mysterious and cruel sounding traditions is in Ireland, with the Wren Boys. Traditionally young lads would go into the woods, find and kill a wren and then parade the poor creature around on a pole. The actual killing of the wren died out and young men would dress up and go around from house to house with a pretend wren, dancing and singing. It is thought that the custom goes back to pagan times, and as with so many traditions was grafted on to the ‘new’ Christian religion.
Here is an interesting article with some photos about the Irish tradition:
Wenceslas, by the way was a Duke of Bohemia, not a king, but he had kingship posthumously conferred upon him; he was a charitable and religious king, and he too died a martyr’s death; he was much revered in England, hence the popular Christmas carol.