26 December 2011

26 December - St. Stephen; 2nd Day of Christmas

Weather: Weather today foretells the weather of February.

If the sun shines on the second day of Christmas, then money will be easily come by.

If on St. Stephen’s Day there is much wind, it betokens a bad grape harvest next year, and the wine will be poor.

At Jerusalem, the birthday of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, who was stoned to death by the Jews shortly after the Ascension of our Lord.
Hours of Catherine of Cleves
"And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost..." (Acts 6:5) as one of seven men to minister not only in word but in the administration of church funds and in care for the needy, leaving the apostles to preach and make disciples as they had been bidden.

His ministry is said to have been among the Greek (Hellenist) Jews, and his arguments and logic were so successful in converting many, that men beaten in a dispute with him determined to destroy him.  This they did by false witness, accusing and condemning him of blasphemy; he was taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and stoned to death, in accordance with the Law of Moses.  The dying saint prayed for the Lord to forgive his murderers, and at the end said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit".

According to the story, Gamaliel, the teacher of Saint Paul, appeared in a vision to a priest living in Jerusalem in the 5th century and told him that Stephen’s remains had been buried in Gamaliel’s own garden with those of Nicodemus and other holy men.  The relics were found and eventually carried to Rome, where they now lie in the church of Saint Lawrence.

Among his patronage:  He is asked to relieve headaches (that makes sense), and he is the patron of deacons and of stonemasons (that also makes sense).  And then he is the patron of coffin-makers.  Why?

Omnipotent and eternal God, Who dedicated the first-fruits of the martyrs in the blood of the blessed deacon Stephen, grant, we beseech, that he may be the intercessor for us, he who hath prevailed upon our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son even on behalf of his persecutors.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, O God, world without end.  Amen.

It was once a tradition in Yorkshire to make large goose pies today, all but one of which were shared with the needy.  The remaining one pie was carefully saved until Candlemas and then enjoyed. [Since Candlemas is 39 days away on the 2nd of February, I hope they had some way of freezing the pie]

Stephen is also a patron saint of horses.  An old superstition said that horses would be protected against disease in the coming year if they were bled after being well galloped.  Our old curmudgeonly friend Naogeorgus says:

"The followeth Saint Stephen’s Day, whereon doth every man
His horses jaunt and course abrode, as swiftly as he can,
Until they doe extremely sweate, and then they let them blood,
For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good,
And keepes them from all maladies and sicknesse through the yeare,
As if that Stephen any time tooke charge of horses heare."

For whatever reason this became a tradition, it was certainly the best time in the year for such treatment, as, being Christmas, no work was done, and the farm animals got a bit of rest from their labors as well.

Toss a coin into the trough out of which horses drink, if you wish to prosper in coming year.

This is also the day to ask a blessing on the pastures.

As Stephen was stoned to death, a suitable dessert for today would be Rock Cakes, and there are recipes online which are more gentle on the dentures and digestion than the name (and a one-time experience on my part) would suggest; instead, however, here is a confection called DUBLIN ROCK:

Beat 2 eggs whites until stiff.  Whip 1-2/3 cup of heavy cream (it doesn't have to be stiff.  I used whipped cream - the real stuff, not 'dessert topping'.)

Cream together 1/3 cup of unsalted butter and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.  Add the whipped cream.  Gently fold in 1 cup of ground almonds.  Add a few drops of orange flower water and 1 tablespoon of brandy.  Stir in the beaten egg whites until well incorporated.

Pour the mixture into a dish and refrigerate until set (this may take overnight).  Remove and break the mixture into pieces (some people utilize a couple of forks to help the process), which will be rough and look like rocks.  Pile the pieces on a platter.  Decorate as you might a Buche de Noel, with green-tinted coconut or angelica to resemble grass, and ground or chopped pistachios to resemble lichen (and a little squiggle of green gel frosting to resemble a snake returning to its lair, or a couple of yellow saurian eyes peeking out from the hole under a rock.  Ooo, she says, warming to her theme, what about gummy worms in the pile?).

And then enjoy.
In the good old days, the village idiots boys would capture a wren today and parade around town with the poor thing in a cage.  Then they would kill it.  The village idiots are as stupid as their name suggests.  Wrens are very useful birds, who like to eat insects and spiders in great numbers, and have condescended to eat birdseed in winter in my backyard, before attacking their preferred diet.

If you must capture a wren, please do it on film.  And for them and their equally voracious feathered brethren, put out birdseed, lots of it, and suet if you can.  You may find fewer garden pests, mosquitoes, and spiders next year, in gratitude.
This is also the day that Good King Wenceslas looked out and espied a poor man "when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even".  A good day to give food to your local pantry, homeless shelter, women's shelter, or Saint Vincent de Paul society.

As the blessed saint asked his page to "Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me firing hither...", you might also make a donation to your local utility to help heat someone's house this winter.  Our utilities include a little yellow envelope labeled "Warm Thy Neighbor" with their paper invoices.  If you pay your bills online, see if they have a place for donations.

And God bless you for your charity.