Call it what you will. The day after Christmas; the day you rush to the stores which open before the crack of dawn so that frenetic shoppers can pick over the already picked over leftovers remaining on retailers’ shelves; the day you rush into the stores to return that horrible sweater that Aunt Martha gave you and exchange it for one of the already picked over leftovers remaining on retailers’ shelves; the day those in the UK call Boxing Day; or call it St. Stephen’s Day. December 26th has many names as the second of twelve days of the Christmas season which concludes with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.
I am sure that none of us in America needs an introduction to shopping – one of our official national pass times. But you may not be as conversant in your knowledge of St. Stephen.
Stephen (from the Greek “stephanos” meaning crown) was one of seven chosen by the disciples as a deacon. In his case he was given the assignment to minister to those who were widows. He is also recognized in the church calendar as Protomartyr – the first to die for his faith. Perhaps you remember him from the first line of that old Christmas Carol:
“Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the Feast of Stephen.”
Stephen was reputed to be an excellent preacher and logician. He got in trouble with the local religious authorities, one of his chief antagonists being Saul of Tarsus who later converted and is better known to us now as St. Paul.
He was accused of blasphemy and was tried in the religious court, the Sanhedrin. Convicted falsely that he had desecrated the names of the sacred prophets, he was condemned to death. His execution was carried out in the usual manner as prescribed – which is to say that he was stoned to death.
Does any of this sound familiar even in our moment in time two thousand years later?
My Polish friends remember St. Stephen by tossing a handful of walnuts, symbolic of the rocks that were used in his execution, at the outer doors of their friends’ homes to waken them on this day.
In my opening paragraph I omitted one other title we might use for December 26th. That is the day before Congress gets back in session and two days before the President will be back involved in the process of governing. And I guess I should add that it is six days before we jump off the “fiscal cliff”.
Some traditions are nice, like tossing a handful of walnuts. Others, such as those we might expect out of the parties in Washington, like casting aspersions – well, not so much.
As filled as I am with the Christmas spirit, I take heart in one thought. Santa must have left a lot of coal in the stockings of those who are running this country. (That is if he could slip that gift past the EPA).