St Stephen (the first Christian martyr) and Boxing Day

You can learn about Stephen in Acts chapters 6 & 7, where his defence and death by stoning is covered.

Stephen was a Hellenized Jew. That was a group of Jewish people who copied Greek culture but didn’t necessarily come from Greek ancestry. After his conversion to Christianity Stephen was appointed to be a deacon serving Jerusalem’s Hellenist Jewish converts.

Stephen, who was a gifted evangelist, preached in his community. He also discussed matters with people from the synagogue’s Diaspora Jews. Diaspora Jews were those dispersed after the Babylonian exile outside of Palestine or modern day Israel. This caused problems because of religious, philosophical and political belief in Jewish society.

Stephen, in one of his debates, so outraged them that he was arrested and charged with blasphemy. His defence implied that the temple was idolatrous, likened to the Golden Calf that Aaron had made in the wilderness. Afterwards he was taken out of the city and stoned to death. This was witnessed and assented to by a young man named Saul of Tarsus who went on to have the dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus and become St. Paul.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – OCTOBER 17, 2018: The stoning of St. Stephen freso in the church kostel Svatého Cyrila Metodeje by S. G. Rudl (1896).

Boxing Day

The Feast Day of St Stephen is on the 26th December, every year. Many people in UK forget, or are not aware of, St Stephen’s Day – we know it better as Boxing Day.

When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg, he introduced many Germanic traditions into fashionable society. Christmas trees and Christmas cards are just two of those which have since become the norm in the UK. The tradition of Boxing Day, although not directly attributed to the Victorian era, did come to the fore around this time, possibly as early as the 1830s.

Boxing Day is, in a way, similar to the concept of Mothering Sunday. This was when people in service were given time off to spend with their families. The people that they were in service to, would give them food (leftovers from their Christmas Day feasting) in some kind of box for their family. From this we get the name Boxing Day.

If you research the historical records of Medieval times and even earlier you will see that giving of alms in various forms has been a tradition on St Stephens Day. The well-known carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ is a St Stephens Day carol and traditionally sung on that day and not on Christmas Day. The carol is about Wenceslas, who was a king of Bohemia (part of modern day Czechia), giving to a person in need. The reference to boxes and Boxing Day may also come from the fact that churches used to have boxes to take collections from people throughout the year. These were opened on 26th December and the money given to the poor.

Whatever the origins of the name Boxing Day we should remember that the 26th December is also the day to celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

By Lindsey Bradshaw

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