The English call it “Boxing Day,” but here in glorious and holy Ireland, it is the Feast of St. Stephen.Â Good King Wenceslaus notwithstanding, it’s an old Irish custom (in the West, anyway) for groups of boys to chase down a hapless wren on this day and after the poor thing has died of exhaustion or worse, it is paraded around on a twig and a string from door to door as the lads beg “a penny for to bury the wren.”Â The rite has ancient pagan origins, apparently, although a Christian tint was added with the legend that it was a wren who betrayed St. Stephen to his persecutors.
You can check it out at http://www.from-ireland.net/custetc/wrenboys.htm.Â There are picture at this one: http://www.dingle-peninsula.ie/wren.html
There are no Wren Boys around here, although I heard the sound of shotguns early this morning as hungry hunters went searching for pheasants.Â With the economy in the shape it’s in, having a plump pheasant or partridge on the table would be a blessing for many. (I haven’t seen any pheasants yet, but I espied a fat bunny at the bottom of the garden yesterday.Â He’d better be careful!Â Roast rabbit is also not to be despised by the famished.)Â I confess to having had a tiny bite of partridge myself yesterday.Â A friend shot one in the forest and his wife cooked it up all proper like for Christmas dinner yesterday. It was excellent — gamier than chicken, but milder than goose.Â Much like pheasant or quail, from the wee wigeon I sampled. Even vegetarians get curious now and then.)
The sun came out a while ago, and the morning is a pleasant 55 F. or so.Â Almost warm enough to hang out some wash. I’m now listening to the Chieftain’s album, “The Bells of Dublin.”Â It’s amazingly good after all these years.Â (And it sports the “St. Stephen’s Day Massacre” on it, all about “Wran boys” and the like, especially my favorite, the Wexford Carol.)
May your hearts and homes be blessed with the spirit of Christmas now and throughout the New Year!
Remember, if some young lads covered in straw beg a penny to bury the wren, be generous.Â Nowadays it goes to charity!