The Origin of St. Stephen’s Day

Did you know that 26 December, St Stephen’s Day, is a holiday in Ireland? Citizens take the opportunity to spend time with their families or closest friends. Christian Catholics attend special church services to remember the life of St Stephen.

Most shops and business remain closed, with the exception of bars, pubs, etc. In the Temple Bar area (Dublin), pubs are jammed with people meeting up with their friends, with live music, lots of beer, good conversation and traditional Irish food.  Musicians often sing Irish folk songs and encourage the public to sing with them. Good vibes spread and, even if you don’t know the song, you’ll end up learning it and singing with them.

Wren Boy’s Day

To commemorate St Stephen’s Day, Wren Boy’s Day is celebrated throughout the country, but especially in the south of Ireland in Cork and Kerry Counties. Children walk down the street, dressed in old clothes and painted faces, singing, dancing and playing music. They go door to door with a wren (a small bird) in a cage or a model wren on a stick, often collecting money for a local charity.

There are several versions about the origin of this unusual tradition. The first legend tells that St. Stephen was stoned to death because he was betrayed by a wren while hiding from his enemies. The second legend has its origin in the time of the Vikings, when they tried to invade Ireland. The story goes that Irish soldiers approached a Viking village to expel them. A wren began eating crumbs from a drum and alerted the Vikings to the presence of Irish soldiers.

As a consequence,  people felt that the wrens were traitors and should be stoned as St. Stephen was. For this reason, the children began to hunt wrens, stoning them to death and tying them to a stick when they were already dead, to walk them through the village as a symbol of victory.

As well as St. Particks Day or Halloween, St. Stephen’s Day is considered another important day for the Irish. If you’re not Irish but live here, enjoy this curious tradition!

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