Hunting the Wren ~ St Stephen's Day ~ Dec 26

Hunting the Wren & St. Stephen's Day,

Dec 26th ~ Keeping Tradition Alive!

When I was growing up, the day after Christmas Day, we dressed up in disguise, grabbed an instrument and went door to door all over town playing music and passing the hat. After being indoors all day Christmas Day, it was a great relief to be out and about to all of us, and no doubt our mother!  We called it "Hunting the Wren" (pronounced "'ran"). But we had to wait until after Mass because December 26th was also the Feast of St. Stephen.

St. Stephen's Day celebrates the first Christian martyr and falls on December 26th. However, the celebration of the day seem to have little relation to St. Stephen himself, although one tale tells of a 'chattering' wren betraying St. Stephen to his enemies as he tries to hide from them in a bush.

Thereafter, the wren, much like poor St. Stephen, was to be hunted down and stoned to death! This following the wren, in Ireland, is an annual event, marked by strolling musicians going door to door in disguise. It is believed to go back centuries and is still practiced today purely for fun.

Bands of musicians go from door to door entering private and/or public houses as they' hunt the wren' (pronounced 'ran') entertaining the gathering in exchange for food, drink and /or coin and announcing themselves with the following song:

Hunting the Wren/track/1158072/hunting-the-wren-version-ii

The Wren Song

The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds,

St. Stephenses day, he was caught in the furze.

Although he is little, his honor is great,

Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.

 

We followed this Wren ten miles or more 

Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow,

We up with our wattles and gave him a fall

And brought him here to show you all. 

 

For we are the boys that came your way 

To bury the Wren on Saint Stephenses Day,

So up with the kettle and down with the pan!

Give us some help for to bury the Wren!

Historically, a wren was captured and though to bring good luck for the new year. Another legend has it that the wren was the cleverest bird of all.

Birds hold a special place in the Celtic imagination and in Celtic mythology the the tiny wren holds powerful sway. Although tiny, the wren can fly higher than the mightiest of birds and can act as the greatest of messengers. 

Like many winter traditions, this one is social and involves connecting with neighbors and friends. Its hard not to be struck by the practical nature of the tradition. Before electricity and phones, it must have been a wonderful and gracious way for people to check up on each other, keep each other company and shorten those long winter days!