Today we celebrate the Feast of St Stephen – an odd commemoration to come so hard upon Christmas, since Stephen was stoned to death early in the first century for blasphemy, whatever that meant prior to the Inquisition. For his transgressions, the saint was killed by a mob that was egged on by St Paul before he was St Paul – prior to setting forth for Damascus and all that.
Check out the allegorical portrait on the left. Those things that looks like potato epaulets represent stones. Often, though not alas in this picture, Stephen is shown holding a miniature church. Because he is, after all, a protomartyr.
Anyway, December 26 is traditionally his day. St Stephen is the one on whose feast day Jolly Old King Wenceslas went forth. He was also beloved of the Grateful Dead, who had this to say about that:
Saint Stephen will remain, all he's lost he shall regain,
Seashore washed by the suds and foam,
Been here so long, he's got to calling it home.
Fortune comes a crawlin', calliope woman, spinnin' that curious sense of your own.
Can you answer? Yes I can. But what would be the answer to the answer man?
Though I could find nothing that explains why Stephen got saddled with the anticlimactic date of 12/26, I for one welcome the shift back to satisfying, definite narrative closure. A steady diet of holiday fare was beginning to make me glucose intolerant. Last night, for example, following a stultifying smorgasbord in which dessert lasted long than the actual dinner, we all watched White Christmas, the Bing Crosby vehicle. Some eye-popping choreography in it (including a well-observed spoof of Agnes DeMille’s dance vocabulary), but like most such confections, it ended the minute everybody got married. Doesn’t that strike you as unversimilitudinous? For many of us, our stories really got interesting after we got married.
Yes, the beat goes on. Which is to say: just because you’ve not yet been stoned to death doesn’t mean that fate doesn’t await you. To wrench Elvis Costello out of context, postmartydom may be a death worse than fate. Happy New Year!