December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen. He’s the patron saint of “Boxing Day” as it’s known in England. The day families make boxes of rich Christmas meats and presents to redistribute the wealth among the poor.
All that we know of Stephen’s life is in the Acts of the Apostles (6-7). He was one of the seven deacons, probably a Hellenistic Jew, appointed by the apostles to look after the distribution of alms to the faithful (especially the widows) and to help in the ministry of preaching. To judge by his famous discourse, even if it is somewhat ‘retouched’, Stephen was learned in the Scriptures and the history of Judaism, besides being eloquent and forceful.
The gist of his defense of Christianity was that God does not depend on the Temple, in so far as, like the Mosaic Law, it was a temporary institution and destined to be fulfilled and superseded by Christ, who was the prophet designated by Moses and the Messiah whom the Jewish race had so long awaited. He finally attacked his hearers for resisting the Spirit and for killing the Christ as their fathers had killed the prophets.
They then stoned him for blasphemy apparently without a formal trial, while he saw a vision of Christ on God’s right hand. The witnesses placed their clothes at the feet of Saul (afterwards Paul), who consented to his death.
Here’s the old English Christmas carol referring to Stephen:
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.
“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.
“Sire, the night is darker now, and the winds blow stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page. Treadst thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.