St. Stephen's Day

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the feast day of Saint Stephen the martyr of Jerusalem. For the feast day of the Hungarian saint, see Stephen I of Hungary. For the episode of Doctor Who, see The Feast of Steven.
St. Stephen's Day
Also called Feast of St Stephen
Observed by Christians
Type Christian
Date 26 December (Western)
27 December (Eastern)
8 January (Eastern)
Duration One day
Frequency annual
Related to Boxing Day (concurrent)

St. Stephen's Day, or the Feast of St. Stephen, is a Christian saint's day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr or protomartyr, celebrated on 26 December in the Western Church and 27 December in the Eastern Church. Many Eastern Orthodox churches adhere to the Julian calendar and mark St. Stephen's Day on 27 December according to that calendar, which places it on 8 January of the Gregorian calendar used in secular contexts.

It is an official public holiday in Alsace, Austria, Balearic Islands, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Catalonia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Moselle, Norway, Philippines[citation needed], Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden. The date is also a public holiday in those countries that celebrate Boxing Day on the day in addition to or instead of St. Stephen's Day, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.


Wrenboys on St. Stephen's Day in Dingle, Ireland.

In Ireland, the day is one of nine official public holidays.[1]

In Irish, it is called Lá Fhéile Stiofán or Lá an Dreoilín, meaning the Day of the Wren or Wren's Day. When used in this context, "wren" is often pronounced "ran".[2] This name alludes to several legends, including those found in Ireland, linking episodes in the life of Jesus to the wren. People dress up in old clothes, wear straw hats and travel from door to door with fake wrens (previously real wrens were killed) and they dance, sing and play music. This tradition is less common than it was a couple of generations ago.[3] Depending on which region of the country, they are called wrenboys and mummers. A Mummer's Festival is held at this time every year in the village of New Inn, County Galway and Dingle in County Kerry. A popular rhyme, known to many Irish children and sung at each house visited by the mummers goes as follows (this version popularized by the Irish group The Clancy Brothers):

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give us a treat.
As I was going to Killenaule,
I met a wren upon the wall.
Up with me wattle and knocked him down,
And brought him in to Carrick Town.
Drooolin, Droolin, where's your nest?
Tis in the bush that I love best
In the tree, the holly tree,
Where all the boys do follow me.
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
And give us a penny to bury the wren.
I followed the wren three miles or more,
Three miles or more three miles or more.
I followed the wren three miles or more,
At six o'clock in the morning.
I have a little box under me arm,
Under me arm under me arm.
I have a little box under me arm,
A penny or tuppence would do it no harm.
Mrs. Clancy's a very good woman,
a very good woman, a very good woman,
Mrs. Clancy's a very good woman,
She give us a penny to bury the wren.

A variant sung in the County Cork had a different explanation why the wren was the King of birds:

The wren, the wren, the King of All Birds,
On Saint Stephen's Day he was caught in the furze.
Although he is small his family is great.
Come out, good lady, and give us a treat!

St. Stephen's Day is a popular day for visiting family members and going to the theatre to see a pantomime.[4]

Great Britain[edit]

St. Stephen's Day in Wales is known as Gŵyl San Steffan. Ancient Welsh custom, discontinued in the 19th century, included bleeding of livestock and "holming" (beating or slashing with holly branches) of late risers and female servants.[5]


St. Stephen's Day (Sant Esteve) on 26 December is a traditional Catalan holiday. It is celebrated right after Christmas, with a big meal including canelons. These are stuffed with the ground remaining meat from the escudella i carn d'olla, turkey, or capó of the previous day.

Alsace and Moselle[edit]

St. Stephen's Day (Saint Etienne) is a heritage due to the local German culture even after French annexation in 1918.


St. Stephen is the patron saint of Serbia. St. Stephen's Day falls on 9 January because the Serbian Orthodox Church adheres to the Julian calendar. Serbian medieval rulers' title was Stefan (Stephen). The day is not a public holiday in Serbia.

Republika Srpska[edit]

St. Stephen is also the patron saint of Republika Srpska, one of two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. St. Stephen's Day, 9 January, is celebrated as the Day of the Republika Srpska or Dan Republike, though mainly as an anniversary of the 1992 events rather than as a religious feast.


The most well known tradition linked to the day is "the ride of Stephen's Day" which refers to a sleigh ride with horses. These merry rides along village streets were seen in contrast to silent and pious mood of the previous Christmas days.

Another old tradition were parades with singers and people dressed in Christmas suits. At some areas these parades were related to checking forthcoming brides and Stephen's Day used to be a popular day for wedding as well. These days a related tradition are dances of Stephen's Day which are held in several restaurants and dance halls.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "". Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  2. ^ "Christmas and New Year in Ireland Long Ago". 
  3. ^ "Christmas in Ireland: The Wren Boys". 
  4. ^ "St. Stephen's Day in Ireland". 
  5. ^ Welsh Customs and Traditions, [1]; see also archived version from 1997 [2]

External links[edit]