Known to many as Boxing day, the day after Christmas also marks another day of remembrance in Ireland as well as other parts of the world. Here we take a look at how the story of St Stephen and how he came to be remembered on the 26th December each year when St Stephens day in Ireland falls.
St Stephen’s Story
One of the earliest recorded deacons of the Christian Church, St Stephen also became the first known Christian martyr.
When Judaism was the most widely practised religion it is believed that Stephen, a Greek Jew, converted to Christianity and began gathering a following.
Stephen’s popularity with the public caused the Jews concern as his sermons were becoming increasingly popular.
Those in power declared Stephen’s Christian preaching blasphemous and ordered him to stand trial in the supreme Jewish law court.
It is here that Stephen stood up against the Jews saying that the children of Israel had not been grateful for God’s mercies and that they had murdered Jesus. The crowd of Jews proceeded to drag Stephen into the streets where he was sentenced to death by stoning.
After his death in around 34CE, Stephen became known as St Stephen and was forever honoured by Christians as the deacon who stood his ground against the Jewish faith.
Today St Stephen is the patron saint of deacons and masons among others and his portrait of representations often show him with rocks on his head.
St Stephens Day Celebrations
Today on the 26th of December it has become Irish tradition to recognise St Stephens Day.
This special day is often honoured by spending quiet time with loved ones, family and friends, visiting as many people as possible.
Then there are the traditional Wren Day celebrations which in ancient times involved stoning a Wren to death and parading the captured corpse around the town for money.
The Wren’s significance has been linked to St Stephen in a variety of tales including one that blames the humble wren for giving away St Stephen’s hiding place to his enemies.
Another tells of a St Stephen’s day battle between the Irish and Vikings. When an approaching Irish battalion was set to ambush sleeping Viking’s a wren pecked food from a drum and alerted theVikings.
The Wren has since been a symbol of malice associated with St Stephens day and although the killing of the Wren ceased in the early 20th century the costumed parades and local events still continue.
Global St Stephen’s Day Celebrations and Traditions
Some countries around the world also celebrate St Stephen’s day with other customs or traditions different to St Stephens day in Ireland celebrations.
In Wales ancient custom was to bleed livestock on St Stephens day and, a slight crueller tradition involved beating those who chose to enjoy a lie in the day after Christmas with Holy branches.
Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic chose to recognise St Stephens patronage of horses by hosting ceremonial horseback rides on the 26th of December.
Young men will also enjoy a drink or two after mass which is referred to as “stoning” honour of St Stephens day.
In Sweden, it was popular for the top Bandy teams to play off in a friendly match on St Stephen’s day.
Bandy is like hockey except it is played with a ball and although the Church of Sweden objected to this sporting event being held on a religious day, popularity for the game grew.
From the 1930’s up until present day this tradition has withstood the test of time and in its wake other sporting events have taken place.
Swedish people now often refer to all the events held on the 26th December as St Stephen’s Day sports.
Signature Living’s future in Belfast will involve participating in any time honoured traditional celebrations including those on St Stephen’s day.
It is always our mission to learn as much as we can about the customs, culture and traditions of the cities we build in, so we can better advise our future guests about the city they are visiting.
Please keep up to date here with all the news of our developments regarding the Lanyon Hotel and our continued research into the fascinating history of Belfast.