In many parts of the world December 26th is a public holiday. For some it's a day that is spent lounging around in comfortable clothes, watching television and eating delicious Christmas leftovers. For others it is a day of hustle, bustle and maybe even working up a sweat.
Let me start where I am fortunate to be on this day: Barcelona. Today is St. Stephen's Day in two of Spain's Autonomous Regions, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. It is a day that is named after St. Stephen, who was one of the first deacons ordained by the Apostles to serve the new Christian sect in Jerusalem.
Here in Catalonia, people traditionally celebrate the day with a special lunch, which includes a savory cannelloni stuffed with ground meat made from what remains of the escudella i carn d'olla, capon, or turkey that was served on Christmas.
St. Stephen's Day is also observed as an official public holiday in Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland , Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Poland.
In some communities in Ireland the holiday is also known as Wren's day. It is a day for 'The Hunting of the Wrens,' which is not really a hunt at all, but a parade. Traditional festivities involve revelers and musicians wearing masks, straw suits and colorful clothing as they 'hunt' a fake wren.
On the same date that people in these European countries celebrate St. Stephen's Day, several nations of the British Commonwealth observe a public holiday known as Boxing Day. This holday has nothing to do with boxing, but a lot to do with boxes - gift boxes, that is - both in the past as well as today.
There are many stories about how the name of this holiday came about, but as Snopes.com has observed, one thing all the tales have in common is that in the bygone days of the British Empire, "equals exchanged gifts on Christmas Day, but lessers (be they tradespeople, employees, servants, serfs, or the generic 'poor') received their 'boxes' on the day after." To put it simply, it was the day when folks on one end of the social scale received money or gifts from people on the other end.
Today Boxing Day is celebrated in the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. For sports enthusiasts it is an occasion to watch one of the special soccer, cricket or ice hockey matches of the day. For bargain hunters it can be a day of intense shopping at after-Christmas sales, since in some places stores are open, despite it being a major holiday. Shops open early, some as early as 5am, and long lines are not unusual outside, along with shoulder to shoulder crowds inside after the doors have opened.
Speaking of sales, unfortunately for those of us in Spain the seasonal gift-giving day is not Christmas but Kings Day, which is not until January 6th. This means that today there are no giant after-Christmas sales to head out for. Instead, we must wait until January 7th for the post-holiday bargain days, known as 'rebajas de invierno' - winter sales.
Oh, well, at least I have got some good cannelloni to look forward to today. Yummy!
Have a wonderful St. Stephen's Day / Boxing Day / or just plain old December 26th wherever you are!
For previous articles about the holiday season in Spain and elsewhere, visit these: