Christmas Charity Begins on Boxing Day

Good King Wenceslas Horace KnowlesMy nephew does not usually come for Christmas dinner. He’s usually with his mother, father, brother, nephew, and grandmother in Arizona; but this year he did not go to Arizona; neither did he come to me for Christmas. He and his fiancé decided that they wanted, like Good King Wenceslas to feed the hungry. This is, of course a good thing, but despite the goodness I couldn’t help thinking “That’s what you’re supposed to do tomorrow.” After all it was “on the Feast of Stephen” that the good king took flesh, wine and pine logs to the poor man he espied gathering winter fuel. It’s traditionally on Boxing (or Saint Stephen’s) Day that the Lord of the Manor would host the workers for a festive lunch.

I’m certainly not saying that the poor should be neglected on Christmas: that we should ignore the little match girl freezing on our doorstep; that Rudy is unworthy; or that those who tend to the needs of the other should stop doing so on holidays. What I am saying is that Christmas and Thanksgiving are two days a year that more volunteers are not needed. There is a glut of good-deed-doers sitting smugly about on these holidays, and a dearth of happy helpers the rest of the year, including Boxing Day.

One of the traditional songs of Saint Stephen’s Day is the Serving Girl’s Holiday. (Although, it’s possible that Serving Girl’s Holiday is truly a song for Laetare Sunday.) Another is the Cutty Wren which comes with the tradition of the Wren Boys:

In Ireland, local folklore says that during the stoning of Stephen, the Saint attempted to hide, but that a wren’s song attracted the unwanted attention of his persecutors.  This led to the once popular custom amongst children of killing a wren (to revenge Stephen’s death), affixing the bird’s body to a stick or board and going from house to house begging for sweets or money to lay the bird to rest.  It is this custom that is celebrated in the old Wren Song, the chorus of which is, “Up with the kettle and down with the pan, / And give us a penny to bury the wren.”

I do not begrudge my nephew volunteering on Christmas day. (Although, he was missed at table.) I do feel it is an act of Christian charity that came from the right place: a place of being secure in the grace of God and not from fear of the law. And I hope that we might all continue to “bless the poor” not only today, not only for the twelve days of Christmas, but throughout the year.

Banner Stephen


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