St. Stephen’s Day, or the Feast of St. Stephen, is a Christian saint’s day celebrated on 26 December in the Western Church and 27 December in the Eastern Church. Many Eastern Orthodox churches adhere to the Julian calendar and mark St. Stephen’s Day on 27 December according to that calendar, which places it on 9 January of the Julian calendar used in secular contexts. It commemorates St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr or protomartyr. It is an official public holiday in Alsace, Austria, Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Moselle, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Sweden. The date is also a Public Holiday in those countries that celebrate Boxing Day on the day instead/as well.
St Stephen was the protomartyr of Christianity, is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches.Stephen’s name is derived from the Greek language Stephanos, meaning “crown”. Traditionally, Stephen is invested with a crown of martyrdom; he is often depicted in art with three stones and the martyrs’ palm. In Eastern Christian iconography, he is shown as a young, beardless man with a tonsure, wearing a deacon’s vestments, and often holding a miniature church building or a censer. Rembrandt depicted his martyrdom in his work The Stoning of Saint Stephen.
History approximates Stephen’s story around A.D. 34-35, shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion. According to Chapter 6 of The Acts of the Apostles, Stephen was among seven men of the early church at Jerusalem appointed to serve as deacon. However, after a dispute with the members of a synagogue of “Roman Freedmen,” he is denounced for blasphemy against God and Moses (Acts 6:11) and speaking against the Temple and the Law. Stephen is tried before the Sanhedrin. His defense is presented as accusing the Jews of persecuting the prophets who had spoken outagainst the sins of the nation.While on trial, he experienced a theophany in which he saw both God the Father and God the Son. This vision of Christ standing differs from other Scripture which indicates Jesus sits at the right hand of God – perhaps implying that Christ stood in honor of Stephen whose martyrdom was near.He was condemned and stoned to death by an infuriated mob, which was encouraged by Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as Saint Paul the Apostle. After his own conversion to Christianity, Paul makes reference to witnessing Stephen’s martyrdom in his writings.