Saint Stephen's Day

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Saint Stephen's Day
Also calledFeast of Saint Stephen
Observed byChristians
  • 26 December (Western)
  • 27 December (Eastern – Gregorian calendar)
  • 9 January (Eastern – Julian calendar)
Related toBoxing Day (concurrent), Christmastide, Wren Day

Saint Stephen's Day, also called the Feast of Saint Stephen, is a Christian saint's day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr or protomartyr, celebrated on 26 December in Western Christianity and 27 December in Eastern Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox churches that adhere to the Julian calendar mark Saint Stephen's Day on 27 December according to that calendar, which places it on 9 January of the Gregorian calendar used in secular contexts. In Latin Christian denominations, Saint Stephen's Day marks the second day of Christmastide.[1][2]

It is an official public holiday in Alsace-Moselle, Austria, the Balearic Islands, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Catalonia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine, Switzerland and Newfoundland. The date is also a public holiday in those countries that celebrate Boxing Day on the day in addition to or instead of Saint Stephen's Day, such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.


A statue of Saint Stephen stands in a Catholic church in Italy dedicated to the martyr.

Saint Stephen's Day is the second day of Christmastide and is celebrated in honour of one of the first Christian martyrs, Saint Stephen,[3] who was stoned to death in 36 AD.[4]

Celebrations by country[edit]


In the Republic of Ireland, the day is one of nine official public holidays.[5] Its name is sometimes shortened to "Stephen's Day", particularly in informal contexts.[6]

In Irish, it is called Lá Fhéile Stiofáin or Lá an Dreoilín, meaning the Wren Day. When used in this context, "wren" is often pronounced "ran".[7] This name alludes to several legends, including those found in Irish mythology, 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.[8] 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. Mumming is also a big tradition in County Fermanagh in Ulster. Saint Stephen's Day is a popular day for visiting family members and going to the theatre to see a pantomime.[9]

In most of Ulster in the north of Ireland, the day is usually known as Boxing Day, especially in Northern Ireland and County Donegal (chiefly East Donegal and Inishowen).


Saint Stephen's Day in Wales is known as Gŵyl San Steffan, celebrated every year on 26 December. One ancient Welsh custom, discontinued in the 19th century, included bleeding of livestock and "holming" by beating with holly branches of late risers and female servants. The ceremony reputedly brought good luck.[10]

Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Valencian Country[edit]

Saint Stephen's Day (Sant Esteve) on 26 December is a traditional holiday in Catalonia, in northeastern Spain. 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. Also in Catalan speaking territories, in the Balearic Islands the same day is known as the Second Christmas Day or the Festa Mitjana. In the Valencian Country the tradition is to eat with the paternal family, since the day of Christmas is tradition to eat with the maternal family. The Catalan holiday of the day after Christmas responded to the functional need to have enough time to return on foot, usually from the manor house where the party had been held to the home of each of the various members of the family. The difficulty of traveling at night always compelled to postpone the return journey until the next day, and therefore remained as a day not useful for work purposes; and so on until deriving on a public holiday. It is believed to have Carolingian origin, as the ancient Catalan counties originated in the Carolingian kingdom.

Alsace and Moselle[edit]

Saint Stephen's Day (Saint Etienne) is marked as part of its shared culture across the Rhine River with Germany.

Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and Poland[edit]

Stephanitag is a public holiday in mainly Catholic Austria. In the Archdiocese of Vienna, the day of patron saint Saint Stephen is even celebrated on the feast of the Holy Family. Similar to the adjacent regions of Bavaria, numerous ancient customs still continued to this day, such as ceremonial horseback rides and blessing of horses, or the "stoning" drinking rite celebrated by young men after attending Mass.

The 26th of December is – as Second Day of Christmas (German: Zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag, Czech: druhý svátek vánoční) – a public holiday in Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.


Saint Stephen is the patron saint of Serbia. Saint 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]

Saint 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 best-known tradition linked to the Stephen's Day (Finnish: tapaninpäivä) 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 the silent and pious mood of the preceding Christmas days.

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


In Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Stephen's Day, also called Stefanov Den (Bulgarian: Стефанов ден), on the third day after Christmas - December 27.[11] On this day, the ones who have a nameday are given gifts.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lopez, Jadwiga (1 January 1977). Christmas in Scandinavia. World Book Encyclopedia. ISBN 9780716620037. The remainder of Christmas Day is spent snacking, playing with toys, reading new books, or napping. December 26 is a legal holiday, and is called "Second Day Christmas.” It is also Saint Stephen's Day—the feast day of a Christian missionary, once a stable boy, who came to Sweden around A.D. 1050.
  2. ^ Crump, William D. (15 September 2001). The Christmas Encyclopedia (3 ed.). McFarland. p. 25. ISBN 9780786468270. On Saint Stephen's Day (December 26, “Second Christmas Day”), families make traditional visits to friends and relatives.
  3. ^ McLaughlan, David (2012). The Top 40 Traditions of Christmas. Barbour Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62029-108-5.
  4. ^ "St. Stephen's Day". Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
  5. ^ "Public holidays in Ireland". 16 January 2017. Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  6. ^ "Why is Stephen's Day called Boxing Day? 12 yuletide questions answered". Irish Times. 18 December 2018. Archived from the original on 19 December 2018. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  7. ^ "Christmas and New Year in Ireland Long Ago".
  8. ^ "Christmas in Ireland: The Wren Boys". Archived from the original on 3 April 2013.
  9. ^ "Saint Stephen's Day in Ireland".
  10. ^ "Wales on Britannia: Welsh Culture & Traditions".
  11. ^ "STEFANOVDEN (St. Stephen or Stefan's Day) - December 27".
  12. ^ "27 Декември - Стефановден".

External links[edit]