St. Stephen's Day and Wrens Again

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Posted by E on December 27, 2000 at 15:29:15:

In Reply to: Re: Thought for the Day (Happy Boxing Day!)/addendum posted by Christina on December 27, 2000 at 14:05:34:

: : : : : : Irish Coffee is the perfect breakfast because it contains all four adult food groups: fat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.

: : : : : : (Anon)

: : : : : Huggy.....

: : : : : Not to correct, but to add.......there are five elements in the adult food forgot the prescription pain killers!

: : : : : And i think the British celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen today (according to the Chieftain's "Bells of Dublin" album).

: : : : : Uncle Dave

: : : : ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

: : : : St Stephens Day is not generally celebrated in England, it is very much an Irish celebration - I am not sure about north of the border....Miss Katie? Is it Boxing Day or St Stephens Day in Scotland?!

: : : : HM

: : : >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

: : : Now THIS was an excellent 'Thought' for today, let me tell ya!

: : : Do the Scots celebrate St. Stephen's Day? Well, yes and no. The Scots consider the 26th as 'Boxing Day'. However, in Scotland, at all the Church services on Christmas Eve, (throughout all denominations), collections are taken but instead of going to the church as they normally would do, the proceeds of these collections are handed over to various charities, which have been selected. This is normally done on the 26th, in recognition and in celebration of St. Stephen's Day.

: : : Kate.

: : Okay, good, I knew the Mohican board might provide me an answer to yet another thing I don't know/understand. I researched St. Stephen's Day after hearing the Chieftains sing about it on "Bells of Dublin" and basically learned it was celebrated by groups of men wandering around with a dead bird (specifically, a wren) impaled on a stick, singing and performing at houses until provided with the appropriate amount of money/liquor/food as compensation. Is this true? If so, what does a dead bird on a stick have to do with St. Stephen? Please explain, someone! This so befuddled us that a friend of mine who is a research librarian in New York tried in vain for a week to find the answer to this information and couldn't...
: : waiting in anticipation, Christina

: Sorry -- an addendum. I neglected to stress that the brief mention I heard about this bizarre bird-on-a-stick thing stated that this custom was practiced WAY back during the middle ages, not today.


From yesterday's post ...

St. Stephen's Feast Day is celebrated all over the world, but in Ireland it is a national holiday
with little to do with St. Stephen. Remember the 10th century Bohemian King Wenceslas
who went out to give alms on the Feast of Stephen?

Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Thro' the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
Mark my footsteps, good my page;
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

The traditional celebration of Boxing Day (Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand)
included giving money and other gifts to charities, the poor, and those in 'service' jobs. The
holiday dates from the Middle Ages, though its exact origin is unknown. It is believed to
have begun with priests, who opened the church's alms boxes on the day after Christmas
and distributed the contents to the poor. Wealthy Lords and ladies of England imitated the
practice by presenting Christmas gifts in boxes to their servants on December 26 and offering
donations to the poor. The 'Box' can be the Alms Box, the Gift Boxes from British Lords, or
the Boxes carried about by those begging alms.

As for the Irish celebration of St. Stephen's Day, the following excerpt might be interesting.
The "Wren Song" speaks of the "box" carried out about on St. Stephen's Day;

"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 caught it or it 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 (often women's dresses.) At each house, the boys sing the Wren Boys' song. There
are many versions and variations of this
song, including the following:

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.

There are different legends about the origin of this custom. One is that St.Stephen, hiding
from his enemies in a bush, was betrayed by a chattering wren. The wren, like St. Stephen,
should be hunted down and stoned to death.
Another legend holds that during the Viking raids of the 700's, Irish soldiers were betrayed
by a wren as they were sneaking up on a Viking camp in the dead of night. A wren began
to eat breadcrumbs left on the head of a drum,and the rat-a-tat-tat of its beak woke the
drummer, who sounded the alarm and woke the camp, leading to the defeat of the Irish
soldiers and the
continuing persecution of the wren.

The pursuit and capture of the wren is also related to the pagan custom of sacrificing a sacred
symbol at year's end. In contrast to the legends of the wren as betrayer, the wren has also
been revered in Ireland as the "king of the birds." An Irish folktale tells of a contest held
among birds to see which could
fly the highest and should be accorded this title. The eagle soared higher than any other bird,
but lost the contest when a clever wren, who had been hiding on the back of the eagle, flew
off the eagle and soared higher in the sky.

The custom of going on the wren fell into disfavor around the turn of the century, and died
out completely in most parts of Ireland, but has been revived throughout much of the
country. Wrens are no longer killed-- an artificial wren may be used, or a real wren may be
carried about in a cage.The "Wren Boys" now include girls, and adults often accompany the
young people.
Folk costumes and traditional music and dancing are often part of going on the wren, and the
money collected is often used for community or school projects."

Strange that Boxing Day never took root in colonial America.

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