While St. Stephen’s Day is not considered a public holiday throughout the rest of France, it is kept as one in France’s Alsace-Moselle region. Bearing in mind that the holiday is not typically kept as a festive day of activities and celebrations, it’s best to remember the origin of this ancient holiday.
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Note: St Stephen’s Day is observed in Alsace and Moselle only.
As an early convert to Christianity in the first known church setting in Jerusalem, Stephen was tried for blasphemy against God, Moses and for speaking against the Jewish Temple and the Law. Tragically, not one of the charges was true, and he became the first known martyr of the newly formed Christian Church.
Stoned to death under the supervision of then Saul of Taursus, later Saint Paul the Apostle, Stephen’s life ended sometime around 35 A.D.
He is often depicted as wearing a crown and being surrounded by three stones. He is most distinguished for having voluntarily given his life for the cause of Christ offering no defense for himself. As a saint of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church, he is patron of stonemasons, casket makers, sufferers of headaches, horses and deacons.
Known for his generosity towards the poor of the city, St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated by various nations on December 26, the day after Christmas.
St. Stephen’s Feast Day Commemorated But Not Celebrated
Unlike other festive occasions in France and elsewhere, this day is rather subdued in comparison. Honored the day after Christmas, the feast day falls on December 26th, the second of the Twelve Days of Christmas as the second of two public holidays–Good Friday being the first. However, it is only honored in Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin in Alsace and in the Lorraine département of Moselle. The rest of France, however, does not stop working.
- Typical Feast Day Cuisine
Typically, people of those countries commemorating this holiday spend time with close family and friends as they enjoy their meals together. Because the day falls on the day after Christmas, left over turkey or ham is served along with quality regional wine beverages.
Sometimes oysters, red snapper and other sea fare are served, depending on what was leftover from the Christmas feast the day before. Blood sausage or boudin are equally enjoyed in many households. In France, small round loaves, pains d’habitant, traditionally baked for Christmas and left over for the next day, are particular favorites.
For dessert, the traditional Christmas Log, bûche de Noël and internationally renown, creme d’ vie, a quality eggnog, top off the evening meal. As stated before, no one cooks on Saint Stephen’s Day as it’s considered a grand day for left overs.
- Other St. Stephen’s Day Traditions
Horse bleeding, to insure them from getting any disease, is encouraged by many. After a good gallop, a small cut is made on the horse’s skin that lets out copious amounts of blood, much as many humans subscribe to being “sucked” by leeches to let out any infirmities.
During St. Stephen’s Day, another custom is lining the pockets of the working-classes who commonly receive an extra supply of funds in memory of the saint’s charity giving among the needy.
Just like most major holidays, like Thanksgiving’s Black Friday in the United States and the day after Christmas, early morning shoppers storm the stores that are opened on this day looking for bargains.
While not having a gayly celebrated festival or carnival atmosphere, and no parades to attend, Saint Stephen’s Day is nonetheless a wonderful way to kick back and relax after Christmas before the next major holidays, New Year Eve and New Year’s Day.