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I hope everyone had a good Christmas, despite the circumstances in various countries this year.

May I wish those who observe it in the UK and the Commonwealth a happy Boxing Day.

In Ireland, December 26 is observed as St Stephen’s Day.

You can read a history of both Boxing Day and St Stephen’s Day below:

Boxing Day – a history

St Stephen was the Church’s first martyr. His trial and death comprise Acts 7. Some might be surprised to find in the first few verses of Acts 8 that Saul of Tarsus — later St Paul the Apostle — was instrumental in Stephen’s death.

This post has two interesting videos about Stephen’s life and the example he has set for all Christians:

St Stephen, the first martyr

The next post has expositions from Acts 7 and Acts 8:1-3 about Stephen’s final hours. The post also explains the charity that made Boxing Day a long standing tradition. It ends with an exploration of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas about the Bohemian monarch’s dispensing charity ‘on the feast of Stephen’ in severe winter weather as well as the his alarming martyrdom:

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more

I plan to post again on Christmas on Sunday. Monday is a public holiday here in the UK and Ireland because Boxing/St Stephen’s Day falls on a Saturday. The last time this happened was in 2015. Being able to extend Christmas is always a bonus.

May I wish a happy Boxing Day to all who celebrate it.

Here are a few posts of mine about December 26, which is also St Stephen’s Day. The Irish recall the feast day of the Church’s first martyr; Saul of Tarsus (later, Paul the Apostle) played a not insignificant part in his being stoned to death:

Boxing Day – a history

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more (the money box, details on St Stephen and Good King Wenceslas (2017)

Whereas many nations resume work on a weekday when it falls after Christmas Day, having a legal holiday on December 26 helps us to reflect further upon the Christmas story.

This painting from 1622 might be relatively unknown, but the expressions on the shepherds’ faces are second to none:

It is called Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.

The shepherds appear in Luke’s account of the Nativity (Luke 2:1-20):

The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.[c]

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[d]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The painting really captures this text beautifully. One cannot help but get wrapped up, so to speak, in the miraculous nature of Christ’s birth and the angels appearing to lowly shepherds to announce it.

Yet, the sermon I heard in church this year weighed heavily on the politics of poverty, particularly that of children.

Depending on the current events of our time, Luke’s account is also turned falsely into a screed about asylum and the need for political action.

This is strange, as many of us aged 60+ grew up marvelling at angels appearing to shepherds — among the most despised people of their era — who drop everything to seek the Christ Child. From the time we were young children, we thought those shepherds were the most fortunate men of their day. They were the first to see our Saviour. And they believed:

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

In 2011, I wrote about the explanation of Luke’s story by Dr Craig S Keener, a theologian who specialises in hermeneutics — the understanding of biblical background:

The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel

I reread Dr Keener’s account on Christmas Day and highly encourage you to read it, too.

Dr Keener explains the historical background behind Luke’s version. The census taking meant that temporary accommodation was in short supply; people had to return to their home towns, regardless if they still lived there. He explains the purpose of swaddling clothes. He also discusses the lowly social status of shepherds. Perhaps most importantly, he talks about the contrast of the earthly birth of the King of Kings with the temporal majesty of emperors and potentates, whom the people referred to as Lord.

Luke wanted to draw us away from the political towards the heavenly, despite the humble circumstances surrounding our Lord and Redeemer’s birth.

This is, according to the young woman at the end of the following video, the second year in a row where Syrians have been able to celebrate the season of our Saviour’s birth:

The video was filmed in mid-December when the tree lighting ceremony took place in Damascus. This particular celebration was sponsored and organised by the Syrian tourism board.

What joy there is among the Syrians. Meanwhile, we in the West are less filled with cheer, even to the point of being embarrassed to celebrate Christmas.

When people’s lives have been affected by war, they really do appreciate what they lost during those years. This is something for us Westerners to reflect on during our largely peaceful era.

As December 26 is Boxing Day in Britain and parts of the Commonwealth, here is a bit of history about the day after Christmas:

Boxing Day – a history

In Ireland, this is St Stephen’s Day. Find out more about the Church’s first martyr below:

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more (the money box, details on St Stephen and Good King Wenceslas (2017)

For those who are still enjoying Christmas, have a wonderful day. May that joyful spirit carry on for a long time to come!

December 26 is full of history.

Before I begin, here is a beautiful painting of the Holy Family:

File:Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo 008.jpg

The Holy Family with dog, hangs in Madrid’s Museo del Prado. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo painted it between 1645 and 1650. He was born late December 1617, baptized January 1, 1618 and died on April 3, 1682.

Murillo was a prolific painter of both religious and secular themes. Until the 19th century, he was Spain’s best known artist. His work influenced many other European painters, including Gainsborough.

St Stephen’s Day

Stephen was the Church’s first martyr.

Students of the Bible and readers who have been following my series on Acts this year, will recall his story. Saul of Tarsus — St Paul — had a huge role to play in Stephen’s stoning.

Stephen was the first to offer an apologetic for a belief in Jesus:

Acts 7:2b-8 – Stephen, deacon, appearing before the court in the temple, apologetics, Abraham

Acts 7:9-16 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Joseph

Acts 7:17-22 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Moses

Acts 7:23-29 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Moses meeting with his people — the Israelites in slavery

Acts 7:30-34 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, God, Jesus, Moses called from exile, burning bush

Acts 7:35-43 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, God, Jesus, Moses the deliverer, Ten Commandments, idolatry

Acts 7:44-50 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, the history of the temple, Moses, Joshua, King David, King Solomon. The post also includes the account of his stoning in the last few verses of Acts 7.

Acts 8:1-3 – Stephen, Saul, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria

The following post explains more in video. Unfortunately, the first video is no longer available, but the others are:

St Stephen, the first martyr

In Europe, St Stephen’s Day has been one of popular celebrations, sometimes revelry, as it comes right after Christmas.

Boxing Day

Of course, here in Britain and parts of the Commonwealth, we celebrate Boxing Day:

Boxing Day – a history

One detail I discovered more about was the money box — Christmas box — from the 17th and 18th centuries:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.[6]

I watched the BBC Two Christmas special, The Sweet Makers, in which historian Dr Annie Gray brought a Christmas box to show the bakers and confectioners. It was a painted terracotta box that one dropped on the floor to open. Dr Gray said that one recipient wrote in his journal that he made a year’s salary with that Christmas box alone. He was the exception, not the rule!

The origin of those boxes is unclear but involves one or more of the following traditions:

The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen,[9] which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.

Here is another:

Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. Were the voyage a success, the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents then given to the poor.

Christmas carol — Good King Wenceslas

A popular traditional carol is Good King Wenceslas, which describes an event that took place on December 26.

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Wenceslas (c. 907 – 935) was a duke in Bohemia. The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I elevated him to a king after his brutal death, largely for his piety, just government and famous works of charity.

Wikipedia tells us (emphases mine):

Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death in the 10th century, when a cult of Wenceslas rose up in Bohemia and in England.[3] Within a few decades of Wenceslas’ death, four biographies of him were in circulation.[4][5] These hagiographies had a powerful influence on the High Middle Ages conceptualization of the rex iustus, or “righteous king”—that is, a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his princely vigor.[6]

Referring approvingly to these hagiographies, a preacher from 12th century says:[7][8]

But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II,[9] who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving.[10]

Wenceslas’s long walk on December 26 is the subject of the carol:

“Good King Wenceslas” is a Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the Second Day of Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow.

In 1853, an English high churchman, John Mason Neale, took the melody “Tempus adest floridum” (“It is time for flowering”), a 13th-century spring carol, and wrote the following verses, which might be a translation of a poem by Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda:

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 shall 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 wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread 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.

The carol received widespread criticism for decades. That said, I’m glad it survived. I heard a choir sing it at our local Christmas lighting ceremony this year. It’s beautiful:

Poor Wenceslas — or Wenceslaus, real name Václav — was dogged by political and family problems. His own brother killed him.

His grandfather, Bořivoj I of Bohemia, converted to Christianity thanks to Sts Cyril and Methodius. Wenceslaus’s mother, Drahomíra,was a pagan who converted and was baptised when she married Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia. His paternal grandmother, Ludmila of Bohemia, was responsible for young Wenceslaus’s education.

Vratislaus I died when the boy was about 13. Ludmila became regent because Wenceslas was not yet old enough to succeed his father. Drahomíra became jealous of Ludmila, not only for her position but also for the influence she had over the boy. So, she had her mother-in-law murdered:

Ludmila was at Tetín Castle near Beroun when assassins murdered her on September 15, 921. She is said to have been strangled by them with her veil. She was at first buried in the church of St. Michael at Tetín, but her remains were later removed, probably by Wenceslas,[3] to the church of St. George in Prague, which had been built by his father.[4]

Mother-in-law out of the way, Drahomíra became regent and, oddly, began persecuting Christians. A few years later, at the age of 17 or 18, Wenceslas was able to rule in his own right. Note the reference to his brother below:

he took control of the government. He placed the duchy under the protection of Germany, introduced German priests, and favoured the Latin rite instead of the old Slavic, which had gone into disuse in many places for want of priests.[2] To prevent disputes between him and his younger brother Boleslav, they divided the country between them,[clarification needed] assigning to the latter a considerable territory.[4]

Wenceslas also exiled his wicked mother.

He had to contend with enemy rulers and adversarial regional alliances during his reign.

Worst of all was his murderous brother, Boleslav.

In September 935:

a group of nobles allied with Wenceslas’s younger brother Boleslav plotted to kill him. After Boleslav invited Wenceslas to the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Stará Boleslav, three of Boleslav’s companions, Tira, Česta, and Hněvsa, fell on the duke and stabbed him to death.[5] As the duke fell, Boleslav ran him through with a lance.[4]

According to Cosmas of Prague, in his Chronica Boëmorum of the early 12th century, one of Boleslav’s sons was born on the day of Wenceslas’s death. Because of the ominous circumstance of his birth, the infant was named Strachkvas, which means “a dreadful feast”.[5]

What a man Wenceslas was. What a family he had. What piety and charity he displayed in the face of such adversity.

Along with her grandson, Ludmila was also elevated to sainthood. Ludmila is the patron saint of Bohemia, converts, duchesses, widows and, not surprisingly, those who have problems with in-laws.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Christmas!

Best wishes to all those who are celebrating Boxing Day!

File:Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo 008.jpg

This painting, The Holy Family with dog, hangs in Madrid’s Museo del Prado. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo painted it between 1645 and 1650. He was born late December 1617, baptised January 1, 1618 and died on April 3, 1682. Find out more here:

Thoughts on Christmas

December 26 is also the feast of St Stephen:

St Stephen, the first martyr

Learn about Boxing Day:

Boxing Day – a history

For those visiting family and friends today, have fun.

For those who are already back at work, may the Christmas spirit live on in your hearts.

Boxing Day clip artHappy Boxing Day to readers living in countries where December 26 is a public holiday.

December 26 is also the feast day of St Stephen, the first martyr.

My previous posts for this day continue the Christmas theme:

Come let us adore Him

Keeping the hope of Christmas alive

Thoughts on Christmas (Murillo’s Holy Family with dog)

Concerning today’s illustration, a clearer, black and white version of George Cruikshank’s 19th century engraving can be seen at The History Notes.

On the subject of Boxing Day, journalist Cameron Macphail wrote a fascinating and witty history of December 26 for The Telegraph. I highly recommend reading it in full.

A summary follows.

Why ‘Boxing Day’?

Boxing Day was observed in some sense — if not as a public holiday, then as a day of giving — going back at least a few centuries.

In the 17th century, Samuel Pepys recorded Boxing Day preparations in his diary.

Gift boxes were for servants and tradespeople.

Servants worked on Christmas Day for their employers. Boxing Day was their day off and the opportunity to be with their own families. Employers gave each servant a box with a gift, bonus and, sometimes, Christmas leftovers.

The first weekday after Christmas was also the time when customers gave a present or a sum of money — gratuity or account settlement — to tradespeople.

Macphail cites Pepys:

… a diary entry from December 19th 1663:

“Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas.”

Five years later Pepys was not feling so generous complaining in a December 28th entry from 1668:

“Called up by drums & trumpets; these things & boxes having cost me much money this Christmas.”

St Stephen

St Stephen is the patron saint of horses.

Macphail says this is why so many horse races and hunts are held on December 26.

The Irish refer to December 26 as St Stephen’s Day rather than Boxing Day.

Other amusements

On December 26, the British continue their Christmas celebrations with family activities.

These include attending the theatre or participating in charity events.

Football fixtures are played around the country. These used to take place on Christmas Day afternoon until the late 1970s, when they were thought to detract from spending the day together as family.

In more recent years, Boxing Day is the date when post-Christmas sales begin. Whilst the men in the house can watch football, women can go to the shops.

Additional Christmas holidays

If December 26 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is always a public holiday in the UK and Ireland. This is the case in 2015.

Boxing Day is also observed in Commonwealth countries such as Canada, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

 

File:Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo 008.jpg

Happy Boxing Day to all my readers celebrating it!

This painting, The Holy Family with dog, hangs in Madrid’s Museo del Prado. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo painted it between 1645 and 1650. He was born late December 1617, baptized January 1, 1618 and died on April 3, 1682.

Murillo was a prolific painter of both religious and secular themes. Until the 19th century, he was Spain’s best known artist. His work influenced many other European painters, including Gainsborough.

Christmas Day has provided us with, it is to be hoped, happy memories and good reflections from church services, this past post of mine advises how we can keep that joyous spirit alive.

Incidentally, December 26 is also the feast day of St Stephen, the first martyr.

 

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it notJohn 1:4-5 (KJV)

Happy Boxing Day to those celebrating it, and to those rushing out to the sales, please shop wisely. 

Here in the mousehole, we’re on Day 2 of Christmas. We always keep a few presents aside to unwrap whilst we prepare leftovers. Here is a little history of Boxing Day, which until the Great War (1914-1918) was a time for servants to have the day off.  Their employers boxed Christmas gifts for them as well as for the tradespeople with whom they did business.  The holiday has been celebrated since mediaeval times, not only in Britain and the Commonwealth but Germany and Greenland, too. Today is also the feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Today’s painting is ‘The Nativity’ by Federico Barocci (Baroccio), who was born in the first half of the 16th century and died in 1612. He painted ‘The Nativity’ in 1597. I found this thanks to The Four Mass’keteers.  Mary looks resplendent in delicate pink and gold against the humble background of the manger.  And look at the Babe, so perfect!  Note how the light plays on them both whilst Joseph eagerly points the way.    

Barocci was commissioned by Pope Pius IV to help decorate one of the Vatican properties, the Belvedere Palace in Rome.  You can read more about him here.

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