The Knights of Wren Day

Dublin Wren Boys 1933
Dublin Wren Boys 1933

It’s Wren Day today! Wren Day is a fascinating Irish tradition with pre-Christian roots.

There’s no connection to Star Wars. I’m just calling them the Knights of Wren (Day) because I love Star Wars. And puns.

The Latin Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Stephen, named for the first Christian martyr, on December 26. (The Eastern Church celebrates it the following day.) As Europeans and Anlgophiles know, it’s Boxing Day today, as well. So what’s Wren Day? It’s still celebrated in Ireland and frankly, it seems kind of awesome.

On this day, groups of men and boys hunt, trap, and kill a wren. (Yes, I’m vegan and think this is abhorrent; thankfully, it’s a symbolic wren that’s used these days.) Why such a friendly and seemingly inoffensive bird? There are many potential explanations. Some believe the tradition started because a wren is thought to have betrayed Saint Stephen. The little bugger flapped its wings, giving Saint Stephen away. There’s a semi-related idea that a wren beat its wings on the shields of the Irish who sought to protect their country from Viking invaders. There’s another myth where God ordered a contest to determine the best among all birds. A wren won the contest through treachery and cheating.

Wren Day likely has pre-Christian roots with the Celts. Wrens can still be heard singing in winter. Druids saw wrens as symbols of the previous year. They were slaughtered in midwinter (wrens can still be heard singing in winter) or around Samhain. (Hmm. I wonder if Danzig is down with Wren Day?) These are just a few of the day’s possible origins.

This article on a site called Sligo Heritage takes a nice deep dive into Wren Day. The Smithsonian went pretty deep.

There are some videos of modern Wren Day celebrations in action, too.

Happy Hunting!

 

 


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