SUNDAY, DECEMBER 26: We all may known “Good King Wencelas” as a Christmas song, but in fact King Wencelas “looked out on the Feast of Stephen”—and today, Western Christians celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen. (Eastern Christians recognize this saint day tomorrow.) This public holiday in many countries commemorates the first Christian martyr with customs that include family visitation, singing, music and dancing. (Get the Catholic perspective at Catholic.org or FishEaters.)
St. Stephen was one of seven deacons officially ordained by the Apostles of Jesus, according to traditional accounts. At a time when the disciples were looking for men to help care for widows and the poor, the ordained deacons stepped up for the job. According to tradition, St. Stephen worked several miracles and inexhaustibly preached the Word of God. Enemies of the early Christian Church wanted to stop the man who had converted so many, and when they couldn’t successfully spread negative rumors about him, they stoned him to death in Jerusalem. (Wikipedia has details.) Ancient stories hold that, as he was facing death, St. Stephen saw Jesus in Heaven and asked Him to forgive his enemies.
Today, St. Stephen is known as the “crowned one,” as he bears the martyr’s crown.