A showy Christmas Day and begging on the Feast of St. Stephen.
Note: St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr whose feast day is the day after Christmas. It is a national holiday in Ireland, but its roots go back beyond Chritianity. The tradition is for children to go “hunting the wren” on St. Stephen’s Day. It is killed and its corpse, or its effigy, is put on a pole, or sometimes in a basket. “The wren boys” go from home to home displaying the dead bird and begging for money “to bury the wren.” At the door step of each home the ‘Bean an Tí’ (the woman of the house), is beseeched,
The wren, the wren, the King of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze.
So up with the kettel and down with the pan,
and give us a penny to bury the wren.
The house that is least generous is likely to have the wren buried under their door step. Killing the wren is considered a good omen, because the wren is believed to be a treacherous bird. Some believe that it was a chattering wren who betrayed St. Stephan’s hiding place. An old Druid story tells of how the birds had a contest to determine who was king of the birds. Whoever flew the highest would be coronated. The wren hid in the back of the eagle. When it was his turn, the eagle soared higher than any other bird. However, when fatigue would let him climb no higher, the wren emerged rested and climbed to the greatest height. So by treachery, the wren became “the king of all birds.”