Happy Boxing Day. It's so-called in most of the English-speaking world — but not, apparently, the U.S. — because the day after Christmas is when you put money, canned goods and the gifts you really didn't want in the poor box at Church. It historically started with the Church of England.
At least, that's one story. The other involves Good King Wenceslas, who was a real person, not just the subject of a Christmas carol. In fact, the Christmas carol tells the story of how Wenceslas started Boxing Day. This was back in the darkest days of the Middle Ages, before 1,000 AD. Christianity wasn't a sure thing at that time. Wenceslas' own mother was a pagan up until her marriage. Bohemia was beset on all sides by enemies. But through it all, Wenceslas managed to be of good cheer and tried to set a good example.
According to song — no, not Bohemian Rhapsody — the other song, the Christmas carol — Wenceslas was surveying his land on St. Stephen’s Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. The King gathered up surplus food and wine and carried it through the blizzard to the peasant’s door.
A strange side note -- Wenceslas didn't become a king until after his death. And he was murdered. By his brother! Yeesh! Why hasn't HBO done a miniseries on him?
Saint Stephen, AKA, the Guy the Pharisees Loved to Hate
And who was Saint Stephen, anyway? None other than the first martyr of Christianity (aside from Jesus himself, of course, but let's not get into a deep discussion about that).
Anyway, St. Stephen was a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem. He was a noisy fellow who pointed out inconvenient things; the pharisees hated him. They hated him with the white-hot rage of a thousand burning desert suns.
So, Deacon Stephen was accused of blasphemy. At his trial he made a long speech fiercely denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgement on him. How'd that go? Well, he was stoned to death. Stephen's martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus (later renamed Paul), a Pharisee who would later convert to Christianity and become an apostle.
Yeah, THAT Paul. 14 of the 27 books in the New Testament have been attributed to Paul, and approximately half of the Acts of the Apostles deals with Paul's life and works. Paul came up with the idea that salvation is based on Faith and not earned by good works (good works, or rather the corrupted idea of good works, being the basis for "buying your way into heaven").
So if not for Stephen, there would be no Paul, and if not for Paul ... well, Christianity would look a lot different, for sure!
So that's why St. Stephen's Day is so important. And if you were trying to burnish the image of a recently murdered Duke/King that you wanted to have canonized, you might link him to an important event on St. Stephen's Day, which is a day celebrating someone else who got murdered.
This is why I'm thinking the whole Wenceslas story may be more hype than history. But it's a great story, so let's go with it.
Anyway, my newest column at Investment U is up. In this one, I go over some other holiday traditions and triva you may not know about. Here's an interesting bit you may not know ...
You Can Thank St. Francis for TWO Christmas Traditions
Who did the first manger scene in a church? St. Francis of Assisi started both Christmas carols and nativity plays. In 1223, St. Francis decided the Christmas mass was in a rut. So, he had an entire manger scene built in his church in Italy, replete with hay, actors, and animals.
St. Francis also thought the singing too drab for Christmas. So he took a couple of popular tunes of the day and wrote new words for them telling the story of the birth of Christ.
Church elders said he was crazy. History judges him a saint.
Read the rest of my list of interesting traditions and trivia HERE.
I'm really tempted to publish my original because the edits are ticking me off. But eh, let it go, right? I hope to let go a lot of things in 2014.