Boxing Day, St Stephen's Day - Holidays and Wine

December 26th, Boxing Day is celebrated in many English-influenced countries, including Canada, Australia, and of course England itself. It is the day-after-Christmas, the day on which 'higher ups' in society gave gifts to the 'lower downs'. It was in essence a class-strengthening day, to bolster those bonds that kept English society in layers. All the equals would give each other presents on Christmas. On Boxing Day, those of higher class would give items to their lower-class acquaintances, without getting anything in return. This was charity. To have received something in return would be an insult, implying that they were of equal footing.

The 26th of December has additional significance - Boxing Day is celebrated on St. Stephen's Day. St. Stephen was a Christian martyr who was stoned to death for his belief in Jesus. He is the patron of stoneworkers and also is associated with horses. This day 'drew in' other more ancient traditions. In Ireland, boys go from door to door gathering money for a 'dead wren' they carry, supposedly stoned to death, but really a remnant of ancient Druidic wren sacrifices for the winter solstice. In Poland, people throw oats at the priests and walnuts at each other - things supposedly symbolic of the stoning, but in reality these things were done long before as fertility rituals.

In any case, how does wine figure in to this mish-mash of rituals from various sources? Take a look at this classic wintry Christmas Carol, written in 1853:

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.


"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither."

In the tradition of Boxing Day, the King is giving a gift to a lesser person he comes across - the gift of warmth, food and wine. King Wenceslas actually lived in the 900s, the Christian Duke of Bohemia, and was a good and well respected ruler. He was down to earth - stories tell of him in his youth helping harvest corn, and making bread and wine.

How can you celebrate Boxing Day and St. Stephen's Day today? Well, giving gifts to 'lessers' might be a bit crass, but helping those less fortunate than yourself is always in style. Gather up things you no longer use and donate them to the Boy's and Girl's Club. Donate money to a good cause. If you know people who are in want, treat them to a special dinner.

And to celebrate Good King Wenceslas, the Bohemian who was murdered for his beliefs on the steps of a church, find a bottle of Czech or Eastern European wine. Tokaji from Austria comes to mind, but there are many on the market. Give a toast to those who try to do good despite the odds, and a toast to those who struggle to do better despite tough circumstances.

Wine and Holidays
Wine in History

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.