Back when the Christmas season still really began on December 25, the 12 days from Christmas until January 5 really were widely observed as « the 12 Days of Christmas. » Today is, of course, the 2nd Day of Christmas. In the classic carol, one’s « true love » (God) is supposed to give one « two turtledoves » (representing the Old and the New Testaments) today.
In Canada, where I served for six happy years, the day after Christmas is called « Boxing Day, » after the British fashion. In those Catholic countries where December 26 is still a holiday, it is known “Saint Stephen’s Day, » after the first martyr, whose feast day today is.
The juxtaposition of St. Stephen, the first Martyr, with the Nativity seems uniquely compelling. (If we also add in the Holy Innocents on December 28 and St. Thomas Becket on December 29, martyrs seem to figure quite prominently indeed in this Christmas Octave. Such « coincidences » are hardly insignificant).
Here in the U.S., of course, today is just an ordinary workday – a big day for shoppers to return or exchange unwanted Christmas presents and get started on the post-Christmas sales. Observing the ubiquity of Christmas shopping on a day trip to Louisville in 1958, Thomas Merton described it as “people running around buying things for no reason except that now is the time which everybody buys things.”
to fixate on one issue or event for a while, as if nothing else were going on in the world, but then at some point it becomes old news and might as well be ancient history. The pre-Christmas frenzy and the immediately post-Christ let-down seem to fit that pattern.
There is not much to be done about that, of course, but those of us whose responsibility it is to keep celebrating Christmas until after Epiphany just have to keep doing what we’re supposed to do. The Word became flesh and has made his home among us – for the long-term, and that is what we are here to celebrate.
Homily for St. Stephen’s Day, St. Paul the Apostle Church, NY, December 26, 2023.