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What is the Feast of Stephen?

Feast of Stephen

The Feast of Stephen, also known as Saint Stephen’s Day, is an annual event in the liturgical calendar that commemorates the life of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen by the twelve apostles to help oversee the distribution of food to some of the widows of the early church (Acts 6:1–7). He was later killed as Jewish opposition arose against him (Acts 6:8—7:60).

The Feast of Stephen is a part of a larger season in the liturgical calendar known as “Christmastide” (more commonly referred to as “The Twelve Days of Christmas”). In Western Christianity, Christmastide runs from December 25 to January 5, with the Feast of Stephen being observed on December 26. In Eastern Christianity, Christmastide starts earlier and runs later, with the Feast of Stephen being observed on December 27.

In some ecclesiastical circles, Stephen is venerated as the patron saint of stonemasons, altar servers, and deacons. These roles are meant to highlight the servant nature of Stephen as one of the first deacons in church history. Catholics especially emphasize the way in which Stephen completely gave himself up as the first martyr, reflecting the way Christ completely gave Himself up in both His birth and death.

Celebrations for the Feast of Stephen vary throughout the world. Some countries that are historically Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran observe the Feast of Stephen as an official public holiday. These countries include Ireland, Poland, and Germany. Others simply commemorate the life of Stephen through feasting or other festive activities such as sleigh riding, gift-giving, or even sporting events. Outside of traditional religious circles, observing the Feast of Stephen rarely seems to include actual feasting or commemorating the life of Stephen from the Bible.

Today, the Feast of Stephen is popularly known because of its reference in the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.” The song tells the story of a Bohemian king who journeys through harsh winter conditions to bring alms to local peasants. The opening line of the songs says, “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,” referring to the second day of Christmastide.

Believers may indeed spend some time remembering and reflecting on the life of Stephen from the Bible. Studying God’s Word and the way God has used His people throughout history is always a fruitful endeavor (2 Timothy 3:16–17). However, we should not idolize Stephen or worship him as a saint. God is to be the only object of our worship and praise (Exodus 20:4–6).

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What is the Feast of Stephen?
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This page last updated: February 13, 2024