Today is the second day of the twelve days of Chrismas, that end with the celebration of the Epiphany on the 6th of January. It is also Boxing Day in the UK.
This second day of Christmas is given over to the celebration of the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. Stephen was one of several people appointed as Deacons of the Church by Peter and the apostles. Stephen was an effective proselytizer who drew the ire of the Sanhedrin, before whom Stephen was tried for for blasphemy against Moses and God (See Acts 6 and 7). Boldly declaring not merely his belief in Christ, but citing to a vision that he had of Christ at the right hand of God, the Sanhedrin voted, in 34 A.D., to execute him by stoning. St. Stephen's execution was itself notable in that Paul of Taursus took part in the stoning.
St. Stephen is the patron of stone masons, those with headaches, and horses. “The reason for this last is unknown, but this patronage is very ancient, and in rural cultures and olden times, horses are/were blessed, adorned, and taken out sleighing, and foods for horses were blessed to be fed to them in times of sickness.” The Feast of St. Stephen was historically offered in honor of all Deacons of the Church.
The famous Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslaus, tells how the 10th century Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, on one cold and snowy St. Stephen's Day a millenium ago, took it upon himself to bring alms to a poor man and his family.
St. Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe, wrote a particularly poignant sermon in honor of the Feast of St. Stephen in about the year 500 A.D.:
Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of His soldier. Yesterday our King, clothed in His robe of flesh, left His place in the Virgin's womb and graciously visited the world. Today His soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.
Our King, despite His exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet He did not come empty-handed. He gave of His bounty, yet without any loss to Himself. In a marvelous way He changed into wealth the poverty of His faithful followers while remaining in full possession of His own inexhaustible riches. And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the King, it later shone forth in His soldier. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.
Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey's end.
My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.
May you have a happy Feast of St. Stephen.
Today is also known as Boxing Day in Britain. It originated in medieval times when the priests would empty the alms boxes in all churches on the day after Christmas and distribute the gifts to the poor of the parish. Moreover, the workers, apprentices, and servants stored their savings and donations through out the year in their own personal boxes made of earthen ware. Then, on the day after Christmas, the box was broken and the money counted,
The 12 Days Of Christmas
The first eight days of Christmastide are known as the Octave
The 1st Day - Celebrating The Birth Of Christ
The 2nd Day - Feast of St. Stephen, The First Martyr of the Church
The 3rd Day - Feast of St. John the Evangelist & The Blessing Of The Wine
The 4th Day - Feast of the Holy Innocents
The 5th Day - Feast of St. Thomas a' Becket
The 6th Day - Feast of the Holy Family
The 7th Day - Feast of St. Sylvester
The 8th Day – Feast of the Circumsision (& The Feast Of Fools - no longer celebrated)
The 9th Day – Feast of the Holy Name (1st Sunday of the New Year, unless that day falls on the 1st, 6th or 7th of January, in which case it falls on the 2nd of January)
10th Day of Christmas - Open
11th Day of Christmas – Open
13 January – Baptism of Jesus
14 January - Feast Of The Ass - no longer celebrated