Shark Patrol Redux 0001: "Saint Stephen's Day"
(Wren Boys in Carrigalene, IRE.)
Here in the United States we build a lot of momentum throughout the holiday season to one day: December 25th, Christmas Day. Many of us have the good sense to tack Christmas Eve on but after a season that, if you were to go down by the apparent calendars of department stores begins on Labor Day, shouldn’t there be a day to decompress following? That seems to be the practice around a good portion of the rest of the world.
“Saint Stephen's Day” falls on December 26th, on what is known as Boxing Day in the UK. December 26th is also an official public holiday across Europe in Austria, Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Poland. Additionally, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, Nigeria and Trinidad, and Tobago also have a holiday on the day after Christmas. Lots of smart nations.
In Ireland it is celebrated as “Saint Stephen’s Day.” Saint Stephen is known as the patron Saint of deacons and stonemasons and is often called the first martyr of Christianity. He even gets a name check in the classic carol, “Good King Wenceslas,” with praise for “The Feast of Stephen.” A national holiday on the Emerald Isle, it is also called “Wren Day,” with legends linking Jesus’s life to episodes involving this bird. Some truly traditional Irishmen will mark the Feast of Saint Stephen with song, dance, music and placing their “hunted” wren atop a pole around which the “Wren Boys” dance in straw costumes and motley clothing.
We Americans rush back into the fury of day-to-day life following Christmas, packing business into those days leading to the bacchanalia of New Year’s. Such a commotion. Even followers of the Grateful Dead knew some good things shouldn’t be hurried. Take their cue and slow down a bit, things will speed up soon enough.
(The last live version of St. Stephen was performed by the Grateful Dead on Halloween, 1983 at the Marin County Veteran's Auditorium in San Rafael, CA.)