WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 26: Sing along to “Good King Wenceslas,” grab some mince meat pie and remember the first Christian martyr on the second day of Christmas—also known as the Feast of St. Stephen. In several countries around the world, today is “Boxing Day,” relating to St. Stephen’s duties as an early deacon of the ancient Church. As deacon, this early saint cared for the poor; Christians have been donating money, food and gifts to servants, service workers and the needy ever since.
In some homes, a tradition passed down from the British encourages families to donate one Christmas gift to a “St. Stephen’s Box,” which is taken to a homeless shelter or sent abroad to a mission country. (Wikipedia has details.) At the end of the day, families can gather to hear the story of Good King Wenceslas, who “looked out on the Feast of Stephen” and shared his meal of minced meat pie with a needy family.
King Wenceslaus may have helped to popularize the Day of Stephen, but Stephen already was renowned throughout the Church as the first martyr . St. Stephen was stoned to death by his enemies—which, at the time, included the future St. Paul—yet he prayed throughout the stoning, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (That’s the traditional Christian version of the story; read more at American Catholic and Catholic Culture.) The Church teaches that this feast recalls the highest class of martyrdom—that offered by both deed and will—and is followed by St. John the Evangelist of the second class on the 27th and the Holy Innocents of the third on the 28th. Drawing on the description of St. Stephen in Acts, many Christian leaders teach that the faithful should pray for their enemies on his feast.
St. Stephen’s festivities abound in many predominantly Christian countries, and the feast is a public holiday in countries including Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and Poland. Western Christians observe the Feast of St. Stephen today; Eastern Christians observe it tomorrow.
FROM KING WENCESLAS … TO SOCCER
Before that feast of mincemeat, those not attending St. Stephen festivities can shop until they drop—in Australia, that is, where Boxing Day draws crowds of post-Christmas shoppers. In Britain, soccer matches have been popular since 1860. Learn more from the New York Times, which describes the St. Stephen’s tradition dating back to the first interclub match between the world’s oldest and second-oldest clubs.