St Stephen’s Day in Ireland
I’m not aware that this day has any particular designation in the states other than “the day after Christmas,” or “the second biggest shopping day of the year.” I know the Canadians go into the street and hit people or something (“boxing” day, isn’t it?). Ireland is still a Catholic country and so here in Ireland, the 26th of December is Saint Stephen’s Day.
You may already know this from the line in the Christmas carol King Wenceslas, that reads,
“Good King Wenceslas looked about on the feast of Stephen”
St Stephen himself is the first of the Christian martyrs. He was stoned to death for heresy against the Jewish temple.
There are loads of things that happen here on this day. For one, it’s also a huge day for the retail sector, certainly. It’s also a big day for the pubs, whose early closure on Christmas is seen as something of a national crisis spilling refugees onto the early morning doorsteps of the St Stephen’s Day pubs. There are some odd British holdovers like fox hunting held on this day. There are also a number of sporting and charity (and charity sporting) events held on this day. Of course, there is The Wren Boys.
There is a story told in Ireland that St Stephen was betrayed by the chattering of a wren. This story may have led to the traditional method of killing the wren on St Stephen’s day by stoning (the same was St Stephen was killed).
There is also a story about Irish soldiers whose attack on an invading Viking encampment was betrayed by a wren eating seeds from the skin of a Viking drum, thus sounding the alarm to the encampment of Vikings.