The Day Of The Wren Known as St Stephen’s Day

Straw Boys

One of Ireland’s unique and darker traditions, celebrated on December 26th, relates to killing a small bird in revenge for betraying St Stephen.
“Hunting the Wren” is an Irish tradition that is believed to pre-date Christian times. It sounds pretty cruel, where basically the tiny bird is captured, killed and tied to a pole. Local musicians and dancers would then dress in garish disguises and go house to house collecting money, food and drink for a party. Woe betide the house that did not donate to the cause – the wren could be buried outside their door which would bring 12 months of bad luck!

St Stephen


King of the Birds or Traitor of Saints??
The wren is considered the ‘King of the Birds’ and is also associated with the old year. It was said that capturing the bird alive would herald in a new and prosperous year. As the king of the birds the wren occupied a prominent position in the druidic pagan religion. Sailors and fishermen believed that those who possessed a wren feather would never be shipwrecked.

Legend has it that the wren was a small feathered traitor, but legend cannot agree if this dubious reputation was earned by betraying a saint’s hiding place, ruining a secret attack by Irish warriors or by being a fairy seductress – all intriguing in their own right.
One version of the story tells that St Stephen was hiding in a bush from his enemies, only for his hiding to be revealed by the chattering of a wren. Another maintains that in the 700s during the Viking troubles, when Irish warriors crept up on the Danes to attack, a little wren beat out a warning by picking crumbs from the drum held by a sleeping Viking. And lastly, there was a fairy woman called Cliona was in the habit of luring local men to a watery grave. She had the power to turn herself into, you’ve guessed it, a wren.

the wren

An Irish St. Stephen’s Day Tradition
The feast of St. Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr, is celebrated on December 26th. Connecting the Wren Boys ritual (Lá an Dreoilín) as the day when the traitor wren betrayed St. Stephen is a good example of how Ireland’s pagan traditions were merged with Christianity (it also happened with St Brigid)

The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds,
St. Stephens’s day, he was caught in the furze.
Although he is little, his honour is great,
Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.

We followed this Wren ten miles or more
Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow,
We up with our wattles and gave him a fall
And brought him here to show you all.

For we are the boys that came your way
To bury the Wren on Saint Stephens’s Day,
So up with the kettle and down with the pan!
Give us some help for to bury the Wren!

Modern Revival
Nowadays, a more humane Wren Boys is still practiced in mainly rural areas, they don’t kill the wren anymore, thank goodness. The tradition consists of “hunting” a fake wren, and putting it on top of a decorated pole. Crowds of mummers or straw boys celebrate the wren by dressing up in masks, straw suits and colorful motley clothing and, accompanied by céilí music bands, parade through the towns and villages. A celebration is still held around the decorated pole and the money that is collected from the townspeople is now donated to a school or charity.

Cautionary word of warning to all wrens – a wren’s feather is still thought to bring good luck, so maybe lie low around Christmas time…

Shop Irish at The Irish Jewelry Company and learn more about Irish traditions.

Traditional Irish Christmas Plum Pudding

Our traditional Irish Christmas Plum Pudding has had humble beginnings. Plum pudding was originally a porridge flavored with scraps of meat or fish, thickened with bread crumbs and bound together with eggs, fruit and spices. During the Tudor and Stuart period dried prunes were added to the pudding which became known as plum porridge.

Today it is simply known as Christmas Plum Pudding. Although Plum Pudding is not the type of food generally thought of as a pudding today by commercial standards. It is exactly what one would expect of a traditional old fashioned Irish pudding. Plum Pudding drizzled with Brandy Butter is the essence of Christmas in Ireland and is deliciously served with a fresh cream sauce or Brandy Butter.

Irish Christmas Plum Pudding Serving Ideas…

christmas pudding with custard --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
christmas pudding with custard — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Nutmeg Sauce

2/3 cup sugar*
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes until ingredients are well blended.

Brandy Butter

4 tbsp softened, unsalted butter
1/2 cup superfine sugar
3 tbsp brandy
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and beat with an electric beater until smooth and well blended. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or until firm. Brandy Butter may be sprinkled with nutmeg before serving.

http://www.theirishjewelrycompany.com/irish-christmas-pudding.html

Women’s Christmas in Ireland

Have you ever heard of “Women’s Christmas”?
In Ireland on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, it is when traditionally the Irish finish celebrating Christmas. It is also known as Nollaigh na mBean in Irish (Women’s Christmas).

Tradition has it that women get the day off and the men of the house get to do the housework, cooking and take down the Christmas decorations. Women meet up have a day out and treat themselves.
Are you celebrating Women’s Christmas this year?

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THE CANDLE IN THE WINDOW

The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas eve is still practiced today. It has a number of purposes but primarily it was an symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they traveled looking for shelter.

The candle also indicchristmas-around-the-world-06ated a safe place for priests to perform mass as, during Penal Times this was not allowed.

A further element of the tradition is that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name ‘Mary’.

THE WREN BOY PROCESSION

During Penal Times there was once a plot in a village against the local soldiers. They were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened the soldiers. The plot failed and the wren became known as ‘The Devil’s bird’.

On St. Stephens day a procession takes place where a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. In olden times an actual wren would be killed and placed on top of the pole. St. Stephen’s Day, or the Feast of St. Stephen, is a Christian Saint’s day to commemorate Saint Stephen, celebrated on 26 December

This custom has to a large degree disappeared but the tradition of visiting from house to house on St. Stephens Day has survived and is very much part of Christmas.

An Irish Christmas Tradition… “Wren’s Day”

St. Stephen’s Day, or the Feast of St. Stephen, is a Christian saint’s day to commemorate Saint Stephen, celebrated on 26 December in Ireland.

St. Stephen’s Day (Lá Fhéile Stiofáin), or the Day of the Wren (Lá an Dreoilín), is an occasion to commemorate the life of St Stephen, a Christian martyr. Most people in Ireland today spend the day quietly with close friends or family.

On “Wren’s Day”, in some areas of Ireland like Dingle, groups of musicians, figures dressed in straw suits and followers in fancy dress or st-stephens-day-green-goldparade-dingle-ireland+1152_13326480249-tpfil02aw-19422disguise can be seen moving about the streets and lanes “hunting the wren”.

During Penal Times there was once a plot in a village against the local soldiers. They were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened the soldiers. The plot failed and the wren became known as ‘The Devil’s bird’.

On St. Stephens day a procession takes place where a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. In olden times an actual wren would be killed and placed on top of the pole.
This custom has to a large degree disappeared but the tradition of visiting from house to house on St. Stephens Day has survived and is very much part of Christmas.

This custom has to a large degree disappeared but the tradition of visiting from house to house on St. Stephens Day has survived and is very much part of Christmas.

St. Stephen’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland, but, the celebrations have little connection to the Saint.