I woke up this morning very confused. It was early but my wife was already out of bed. Lights were on in the hallway and bathroom. I went downstairs and saw her drinking coffee under her blanket on the couch.
“What day is today?” I asked, “Sunday?”
“No, Friday,” she answered. She went on to “remind” me that my younger son (who had come home for Christmas Eve and day) had to get up early this morning for work. She drove him to the train he took into New York City. My older son was still asleep, but could work virtually today.
It is the day after Christmas.
It is also the first day of Kwanzaa, an African-American and pan-African cultural holiday. Though it was first celebrated only in 1966, the “first fruits of the harvest” celebration is recorded as far back as ancient Egyptian times. The name Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits.” It is now celebrated in Africa, the Caribbean, South America (particularly Brazil) and in African communities within Europe.
In England, today is called Boxing Day. It has nothing to do with pugilistic competition, and it’s not a day set aside for returning unwanted Christmas presents. Traditionally, as servants prepared to leave their employer’s home, they were given gift boxes. Now, the box is more likely to be an envelope with a gratuity for the year. In some churches, it would be a special time to make an offering for the church boxes (AKA the “poor box”). Children might go “begging” from door to door, in the way that we do on Halloween in America.
The 26th of December is also known as St. Stephen’s Day, in honor of the first Christian martyr (killed in 34 A.D.). You might know the opening lines of the carol “Good King Wenceslas” which references Stephen.
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
As a Christmas carol, it is unusual as there is no reference in the lyrics to the nativity. Good King Wenceslas was the king of Bohemia in the 10th century and was a Catholic who was martyred after his assassination. He is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic. St. Stephen’s feast day was celebrated on December 26 which is why this song is sung as a Christmas carol.
In Ireland it’s Wren Day and “wren-boys” go from house to house, carrying a holly bush adorned with ribbons and figures of birds, and singing.
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
Saint Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze
Although he is little, his family’s great
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.
Groups of musicians, figures dressed in straw suits and followers in fancy dress or disguise go through the streets and lanes “hunting the wren.” This ancient, pagan tradition was once widespread in the Irish countryside
It’s no wonder I was so confused this morning about into what today I was awakening.