The day after Christmas is the feast day of St. Stephen, who was one of the first Deacons (see Acts 6) and the first prominent martyr of the faith (see Acts 7). It seems a bit weird to celebrate a martyr in the midst of the happy festive season of Christmas. I guess it illustrates the truth that one can never get away from the effects of sin, evil, and death as long as one lives in this world.
On the other hand, if we focus on the kind of person St. Stephen was, we find a wealth of relevant links to the Christmas season. As a Deacon, Stephen was charged with bringing food to the poor Hellenic-Jewish widows of Jerusalem. In so doing he assisted the Apostles by relieving them of the burden of such work, he assisted the widows by providing them the food they lacked, and he assisted the rest of the Christian community by his example of godly living. He was also a deeply spiritual man, according to his brief description in the Bible.
Such a work as caring for the poor is perhaps the top classic act of mercy throughout Scripture given to describe how God’s people ought to live. The Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas describes how one saintly king steadfastly sought out the local poor to bless with food and drink on St. Stephen’s Day. Such charity is befitting of the example of St. Stephen, befitting of the spirit of Christmas, and befitting of all Christians in general. And, as the final verse of the song notes, in the act of blessing the poor, we may find ourselves being blessed at the same time. For King Wenceslas, his young page-boy found walking in his king’s footsteps warming. For St. Stephen, his service and devotion blessed him with great respect among the Christian community, as well as giving him a chance to witness the depth of his faith through his martyrdom.
In short, perhaps St. Paul put it best: “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Good King Wenceslas lyrics
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, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.
“Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.
“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.