Feast of St. Stephen and Wenceslaus, Boxing Day, mincemeat, too

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 26: The second day of Christmastide dawns in honor of the saint traditionally identified as Christianity’s first deacon and martyr: St. Stephen. (Note: In the Orthodox Christian tradition, St. Stephen is recognized one day later, on Dec. 27, per the Gregorian calendar.)

According to traditional accounts: St. Stephen was a deacon renowned for his care of the poor, and was held in high esteem by the Apostles. When the Apostles realized that their time would be devoted to preaching and no longer to caring for the poor, they appointed seven deacons for the task. One of the seven appointed deacons was Stephen. However, his persistent preaching led to trouble and, one day, he was stoned to death outside Jerusalem. (Learn more from the Catholic site, FishEaters.)


The Feast of St. Stephen has been observed for centuries, from Irish traditions related to wrens to the famous carol starring Good King Wenceslaus. (Find traditions, activities for the day, recipes and more at Catholic Culture.)

Down through the centuries, Christians have remembered St. Wenceslaus as a Bohemian duke born ca. 907 CE whose rejection of paganism earned him persecution by his mother and brother. When King Wenceslaus “looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,” he had just finished sharing a meal of mincemeat pie with the poor—fittingly, as the feast recalls a deacon whose responsibility was to care for the poor. (Wikipedia has details.) In many countries, Dec. 26 is known as Boxing Day,” when money saved throughout the year is distributed to the poor. St. Stephen’s Day pies and mincemeat pies are popular in many English-speaking countries. (BBC offers a hearty recipe.)


According to the Roman Catholic calendar, Christmas is the first day of the Christmas Octave. Following Christmas is the Feast of St. Stephen, the Feast of John the Apostle and the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Martyrs are collectively recognized for their respective sacrifices through these days until Jan. 1, which brings the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Each year, the Feast of the Holy Family falls on the Sunday within the Octave.