Saint Stephen’s Day is celebrated on 26 December, the day after Christmas Day, and is also known in Ireland, amongst other names, as Boxing Day and the Hunting of the Wrens.
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Saint Stephen is remembered for being the first Christian martyr. Stephen looked after the poor but was stoned to death in AD36 for preaching the Gospel. His story is recorded in the Bible in the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts.
The Hunting of the Wrens, or Wrens’ Day, relates back to the tradition of killing a wren on Saint Stephen’s Day after which children might go from house to house selling off the wren’s feathers, or they may be chased or followed through the streets while special songs were sung. The wren feathers were thought to bring good luck. Today, a fake wren is attached to a pole and people dress up in straw costumes and parade through towns and villages.
Another big event on this day in Ireland is horse racing at such places as the Leopardstown Racecourse on the southern edge of Dublin. Saint Stephen’s Day is the first of four days of this event. Some people simply attend the races, but others purchase packages that include special seating, meals and race cards.
Even people race on Saint Stephen’s Day – with a 10-mile running race at Limerick that covers country roads and dual carriageways. The race begins at Caherdavin, goes five miles to Cratloe Cross then returns a different way and ends less than a mile from its starting point.
In Ireland, banks, schools and government offices are closed on this public holiday, but many stores are open along with pubs and restaurants although their hours may be different to usual. It is a good opportunity for many to go out for meals with their families and friends.