When we visited Rome over Christmas, we prepared ourselves for everything to be closed early on Christmas Eve, all day Christmas Day, and all day on St. Stephen’s Day. It was a little stressful since we were staying in an apartment and worried about having enough to do and eat on those few days. We knew we couldn’t pop down to the local big box store or off to a chain restaurant for a meal. There weren’t any and nothing was open.
We didn’t have leftovers from our takeout to make anything traditional for the day.
The traditional food would be St. Stephen’s Day stew made up of turkey, ham or bacon, vegetables, and other leftovers served hot. Cakes and pies would be served for dessert.
It’s traditional for people to visit the nativity scenes inside local churches and make a small donation. It was a sunny day and we enjoyed walking and looking at the sites along with locals.
San Lorenzo fuori le Mura is about 1.5 hours away on foot, so we never did get to see that part of Rome.
Celebrating St. Stephen
Stephen was a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who upset the Jewish leaders with his teachings. Accused of blasphemy at his trial, he made a long speech denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him and was then stoned to death. His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who would later become a follower of Jesus and known as Paul the Apostle.
In Western Churches around the world, St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated on December 26, the day after Christmas. In Eastern Orthodox Churches where the Julian calendar is used, St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated on December 27th. St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr who died around the year of 34 A.D.
St. Stephen is the patron saint of stonemasons, casket makers, sufferers of headaches, horses and deacons.
Read the interesting account in the Bible in Acts 6-8:1. Stephen’s speech about Jewish history is interesting and objectionable by many as anti-Semitic. He changed from “our ancestors” to “your ancestors” at the end before he is stoned.
Yesterday we celebrated the temporal birth of our Eternal King; today we celebrate the triumphant passion of His soldier. For yesterday our King, clothed in the garb of our flesh and coming from the palace of the virginal womb, deigned to visit the world; today the soldier, leaving the tent of the body, has gone to heaven in triumph. The one, while preserving the majesty of the everlasting God, putting on the servile girdle of flesh, entered into the field of this world ready for the fray. The other, laying aside the perishable garment of the body, ascended to the palace of heaven to reign eternally. The One descended, veiled in flesh; the other ascended, crowned with blood.
The latter ascended while the Jews were stoning him because the former descended while the angels were rejoicing. “Glory to God in the highest,” sang the exulting angels yesterday; today rejoicing, they received Stephen into their company. Yesterday the Lord came forth from the womb of the Virgin; today the soldier of Christ has passed from the prison of the flesh.
Yesterday Christ was wrapped in swathing bands for our sake; today Stephen is clothed by Him in the robe of immortality. Yesterday the narrow confines of the crib held the Infant Christ; today the immensity of heaven has received the triumphant Stephen. The Lord descended alone that He might raise up many; our King has humbled Himself that He might exalt His soldiers. It is necessary for us, nevertheless, brethren, to acknowledge with what arms Stephen was girded and able to overcome the cruelty of the Jews that thus he merited so happily to triumph.
Stephen, therefore, that he might merit to obtain the crown his name signifies, had as his weapon charity, and by means of that he was completely victorious. Because of love for God, he did not flee the raging Jews: because of his love of neighbor he interceded for those stoning him. Because of love he convinced the erring of their errors, that they might be corrected; because of love, he prayed for those stoning him that they might not be punished. Supported by the strength of charity, he overcame Saul, who was so cruelly raging against him; and him whom he had as a persecutor on earth, he deserved to have as a companion in heaven.St. Fulgentius, Third Sermon on St. Stephen
Countries around the world list St. Stephen’s Day as an official public holiday including Austria, Slovakia, Germany, Canada, Finland, Poland, Italy, Ireland, England, Australia, Czech Republic, Croatia, the region of Catalonia, and many others. Often, people of these countries will celebrate the holiday by spending time with close family and friends, and having meals together.
In Finland, in addition to spending time with family and friends, St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated with sleigh rides or horse rides, as St. Stephen was known as the patron saint of horses. These rides generally take place in small towns and rural areas.
One of the oldest folk-songs of Sweden, Saint Stephen was Riding (Staffansvisa) is sung at Christmastide in honor of St. Stephen, telling the delightful “Miracle of the Cock.” According to this story, Herod would not believe Stephen when he was told that “One greater than thou has been born this holy night.” The proof of his words came when a roasted cock rose up out of the gravy and crowed as he had crowed at the break of day.
The Staffan of the song has the features of two entirely different personalities, those of the deacon, St. Stephen of Jerusalem, whose feast is celebrated on December 26 and therefore closely connected with Christmas, and those of the eleventh century missionary, Staffan, who traveled far in the north. The latter was killed by pagans; and an unbroken foal brought his body to Norrala, where a chapel was built over his grave. In all Germanic lands he became the patron of health and of horses, and being confused with St. Stephen of Jerusalem he shares in his honors on December 26, such as the “Stephen-Cup,” drunk to good health, and horseback rides around churches and through villages.
In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is known as the Day of the Wren. This day is an official holiday of Ireland. The Irish name is called Lá Fhéile Stiofán (Boxing Day) or Lá an Dreoilin (Wren Day). The Wren’s Day celebration began hundreds and hundreds of years ago. One explanation for Wren Day was that St. Stephen was in hiding from his enemies. Unfortunately, he was hiding near a wren. The wren’s chirping gave away St. Stephen’s hiding place and he was found. The wren, therefore, was to be captured and stoned to death, just as St. Stephen was stoned to death. Today, musicians travel from house to house in search of the wren. As they visit each house, they receive money, food or drink as they sing the wren song. This is just one version of the wren song found in an old Irish tale:
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephenses day he was caught in the furze;
Although he’s small, his family’s great,
So pray, good ladies, give us a trate.”
Catalonia is another region which celebrates St. Stephen’s Day. In this region, a festive luncheon is served with cannelloni stuffed with escudella i carn d’olla (leftover turkey meat from Christmas day dinner).
St. Stephen’s Day is also called Boxing Day. Boxing Day pertains to filling boxes with gifts to give to others. Countries which celebrate Boxing Day include UK, Australia, Canada, Wales, and other Commonwealth communities. This day is a national holiday in many of these countries.
The old English carol Good King Wenceslas tells how King Wenceslas went out on St. Stephen’s day to bring charity to the poor. The snow was covered with the blood of his freezing feet:
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
With St. Stephen as our teacher, we learn quickly that as Christ came to us on Christmas Day so we must follow in the footsteps of the holy martyrs in our way to God. Psalm 62, used on the feast of St. Stephen, is a first lesson to teach:
O God, Thou art my God: earnestly do I seek Thee, My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh longs for Thee, like a dry and thirsty land, without water. So do I gaze upon Thee in the sanctuary, to see Thy might and Thy glory. . . .
Antiphon: My soul cleaves to Thee, because my flesh was stoned for Thee, my God.Lauds for the feast of St. Stephen, 3rd Psalm and Antiphon
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you chose Stephen as the first deacon and martyr of your One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The heroic witness of his holy life and death reveals your continued presence among us. Through following the example of his living faith, and by his intercession, empower us by your Holy Spirit to live as witnesses to the faith in this New Missionary Age. No matter what our state in life, career or vocation, help us to proclaim, in both word and in deed, the fullness of the Gospel to a world which is waiting to be born anew in Jesus Christ. Pour out upon your whole Church, the same Holy Spirit which animated St Stephen, Martyr, to be faithful to the end, which is a beginning of life eternal in the communion of the Trinity.
Scripture: Acts 6:8-7:60
- Kennedy Adventures lessons
- You might like this Sunday School lesson.
- Another Bible class lesson.
- Lesson and paper craft
- Lesson and craft
- Lesson on Acts 6-7
- Story summary and activities
- Recipes and activities (on right sidebar)
- The Story of Stephen in multiple languages and activities
- Rock Dough activity
- Painting Rocks
- Forgiveness Relay