Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even
Most of us in the Protestant tradition have long ignored Saint Stephen’s feast day. It’s today, December 26. We do remember Stephen himself, of course. He’s first mentioned in Acts 6:5, when he is chosen to be a deacon. Unfortunately, he soon ran afoul of the Sanhedrin.
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.—Acts 7:55–60
Stephen’s dying words, in imitation of Christ, remind us, on the day after Christmas, that the nativity is just the beginning of a story that leads to the cross.
What does Wenceslas have to do with it? Not much, except that his reputation for generosity led John Mason Neale to write a song about him and set it on December 26, traditionally a day of giving alms to the poor. The origins of the term “Boxing Day” vary depending on whom you ask. Some say it has to do with the nobility boxing up their leftovers for distribution to the poor, or giving gift boxes to their servants the day after Christmas. Another story has it that the priests emptied the alms boxes in the churches on that day and distributed the funds to the poor. Michael Quinion at World Wide Words has tracked the history of Boxing Day to a practice of workers asking for extra tips on that day. Given Quinion’s reputation, he’s probably got the right story.
This spiel is my disjointed way of offering you a little gift on the first day of Christmas. My short story “The Feast of Stevens” is a science fiction Christmas comedy that includes a reference to the Wenceslas carol. It’s free on Smashwords, so you may have seen me link to it elsewhere. Enjoy!