COLM O'REGAN: Why Stephen’s Day is underrated

Stephen’s Day, or to give it its proper title Stephenses….es n  Day is an underrated day. (The added es is part of a great Irish tradition of adding ‘extreme possessiveness’ to certain nouns to be sure, to be sure. Another example would be Jameseses Street in Dublin.)

Stephenses Day being a Monday today makes it the King of All Bank Holiday Mondays. You will experience all sorts of disorientation today. You don’t know WHAT day of the week it is. And you won’t know until January 3 rd . Mondays that feel like Sundays, Tuesdays that feel like Saturdays, Wednesdays that feel you’ve woken up and all humanity has disappeared. You’re so thrown out of sync you’d nearly go out to do the milking in your wedding suit. What’s open today?  WHAT’S OPEN TODAY? There are the sales of course, run by and for lunatics who can’t abide the suspension of capitalism in any shape or form because they’d have to talk to their families for longer.

You may not even be reading this article at all because the question ‘Is there a paper today?’ needs an answer to the question What is open today?

Nearly everyone will be out for their walk. The walk for their own sanity. They may not have got out the day before because it was night-time before you knew it. But Stephenses morning a fleet of fleeces and high-vis will be pounding the roads, nervously pausing at bad corners to work off the pudding. Traffic should be reasonably light apart from the threat posed by the offspring of idiots who gave toddlers scramblers and quad-bikes from Santy. The type of people who are the spark for the news headline “The Health and Safety Authority has issued a warning about the dangers of …”

Stephenses is more celebrated down the country as there are more traditions linked to it. 

There may be a can-soaked charity GAA match between emigrants and locals. The Returned will have tanned legs which immediately may make them a target for the more blotchy Remained who want to see if the good weather softened up Big Johnny and whether an early friendly knee into the sheeny thigh will soften his cough for him. 

This distinction in look between those who wintered here during the summer and those who left is less obvious as you go up the levels. Ever since Dublin started winning All-Irelands, manscaping is as evident in dressing rooms as deep heat.  

Or there may be a (north/south/east/west/mid) county Junior A/B/C/D final which, due to bad organisation, has been played so long after the semi-final, that teams are unrecognisable. Nippy young lads who were horsed out of it by canny centre

backs earlier on in the champion ship are now men thirsting to prove themselves.

But some other men have retired.

In some villages the Wren Boys are out. It’s sort of like St Patrick’s Day meets the Wickerman. Although no birds are hurt now, it did originate with a spot of culling.

The wren is just one of a long line of scapegoated animals (starting with goats). It has been blamed for betraying Irish solders to Vikings, St Stephen to the marty-ers, even taking the proverbial out of God Himself by winning the title of King of All Birds in X-factor- esque intrigue.

I think if animals could talk to each other they would say: “Maybe we need to start sacrificing a few humans because they really are the source of all our problems.”

But all of this activity is merely teeing up the village for Stephenses night. The biggest night of the year when everyone - a bit like the Nativitiy - returns to the pub of their birth to have their life choices judged.

It’s like Christmas Eve mass but without the spirituality, nativity and transubstantiation and on Stephenses night you can ask actual questions about their lives, thereby confirming  or scotching rumours that were going around all year. 

Turns out they weren’t in Australia. They were just off the drink. Have they babies to report? Or are they still fluting around ‘travelling’ and having “OMG the most intense experience ever. Burma was just, you know sooo unspoilt and the people soo gracious.” 

But it can be a heavy night, drink-wise. I’d say if Good King Wenceslas looked out these days on the Feast of Stephen and spotted a man wandering around the drive-way, he’d call the Guards. 

Happy re-uniting.


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