Poor guy St Stephen.
First he gets stoned to death – one of the first Christian martyrs.
Then he gets a designated day just after Christmas so no one notices it.
Then – to add insult to injury – it’s renamed Boxing Day, so he lapses still further into obscurity. (Though in Ireland we’re still holding out to some extent.)
No longer! In the spirit of Stephen’s Green, I bring you this St Stephen’s Day / Boxing Day / Christmas song. Best to skip ahead to one minute in – he waffles a bit and has a false start.
Aah – Elvis Costello – always a pleasure.
I wonder would any reader fancy explaining about the third creature sharing the 26th of December – the wren? Maybe you have direct experience? Any wren boys out there?
9 responses to “Boxing St Stephen”
You said to skip the first minute of the tape, should that not have been the first 5.07 minutes! Was that a live performance? Tell me that he had a tape playing the applause, are people that gullible?
Re the ‘wren boys’; I have no experience of them myself but have been told that in some country areas they would dress up with headgear and masks covering their faces and sing,
“The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
In St Stephen’s Day he was lost in the furze.”
That is all that I can recall but I think that their purpose was to collect some money and I think that there was a quite strong expectation that the household would make a modest contribution.
His poor martyrdom is really lost on me because I’m not Catholic, and don’t know the saints. And we don’t celebrate boxing day in the States either. lol I used to always wonder if “boxing day” referred to the day you throw out all the boxes left over from opening Christmas presents. 🙂
I have a cousin currently an Australian citizen who shares his birthday with the boxing day, and since he was born to an RC, acquired a middle name of Nicholas as well. Do you think he will qualify to be called a Wren? I thought that in your part of the world they were the Women’s Royal Navy personnel!
In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is the day for “Hunting the Wren” or “Going on the Wren.” Originally, groups of small boys would hunt for a wren, and then chase the bird until they either have caught it or it has died from exhaustion. The dead bird was tied to the top of a pole or holly bush, which was decorated with ribbons or colored paper.
Early in the morning of St. Stephen’s Day, the wren was carried from house to house by the boys, who wore straw masks or blackened their faces with burnt cork, and dressed in old clothes. At each house, the boys sing the Wren Boys’ song. Such as:
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.
My box would speak, if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings, would do it not wrong,
Sing holly, sing ivy–sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.
And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven your soul will rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won’t agree with these wren boys at all.
Sometimes those who gave money were given a feather from the wren for good luck. The money collected by the Wren Boys was used to hold a dance for the whole village.
And you’ve just reminded me of the Wren Boys coming round to a house at which I was staying in north Kerry. The knock on the door, in they came, some music chat and a few drinks and then they were on their way to the next place.
Did the wren become king of the birds by riding on the back of an eagle or some other stronger bird? Or am i mixing up that myth with another one?
Yes. That is the legen.
ONE day when the birds were all together, one of them said, “I have been watching men, and I saw that they had a king. Let us too have a king.”
“Why?” asked the others.
“Oh, I do not know, but men have one.”
“Which bird shall it be? How shall we choose a king?”
“Let us choose the bird that flies farthest,” said one.
“No, the bird that flies most swiftly.”
“The most beautiful bird.”
“The bird that sings best.”
“The strongest bird.”
The owl sat a little way off on a great oak-tree. He said nothing, but he looked so wise that all the birds cried, “Let us ask the owl to choose for us.”
“The bird that flies highest should be our king,” said the owl with a wiser look than before, and the others said, “Yes, we will choose the bird that flies highest.”
The wren is very small, but she cried even more eagerly than the others, “Let us choose the bird that flies highest,” for she said to herself, “They think the owl is wise, but I am wiser than he, and I know which bird can fly highest.”
Then the birds tried their wings. They flew high, high up above the earth, but one by one they had to come back to their homes. It was soon seen which could fly highest, for when all the others had come back, there was the eagle rising higher and higher.
“The eagle is our king,” cried the birds on the earth, and the eagle gave a loud cry of happiness. But look! A little bird had been hidden in the feathers on the eagle’s back, and when the eagle had gone as high as he could, the wren flew up from his back still higher.
“Now which bird is king?” cried the wren. “The one that flew highest should be king, and I flew highest.”
The eagle was angry, but not a word did he say, and the two birds came down to the earth together.
“I am the king,” said the wren, “for I flew higher than the eagle.” The other birds did not know which of the two to choose. At last they went to the oak-tree and asked the owl. He looked to the east, the west, the south, and the north, and then he said, “The wren did not fly at all, for she was carried on the eagle’s back. The eagle is king, for he not only flew highest, but carried the wren on his back.”
“Good, good!” cried the other birds. “The owl is the wisest bird that flies. We will do as he says, and the eagle shall be our king.” The wren crept away. She thought she was wise before, but now she is really wise, for she always flies close to the earth, and never tries to do what she cannot.
Aha – I had missed the conclusion to that story. Your version seems more worldly wise.
Indeed, who has heard of St Stephen’s Day except the Irish? Clearly whoever is handling his PR needs to be sacked, and replaced by the geniuses who invented Arthur’s Day.
Fabulous post. Never knew about this before.