What is the day of Sant Esteve and why is it celebrated in Catalonia?

Around the globe, there is much more to the festive season than the typical Christmas day meal and get-together.

Saint Stephen’s Day, the Feast of Saint Stephen or Sant Esteve– as it is commonly known across Catalonia – is a special day celebrated by Catalans the day after Christmas, on the 26thDecember.

Today we’d like to share with you the thousand-year old story of how this extension of Christmas day came to hold such a special place in Catalan festive traditions. 

Saint Stephen is known to many as the first martyr of the Christian faith. Accused of blasphemy and later stoned to death (in approximately 35 AD), today he is the patron saint of servers and masons. His feast is celebrated throughout the Western Christian world on the 26thDecember and in many European countries, the UK and the Commonwealth it is a public holiday.

In the 9thcentury, unlike the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, the old Catalonia belonged to the Carolingian dynasty. This large empire in Western Europe also included West Germany and Northern Italy. Given the vast expanse of this empire, families were often separated by great distances. This meant that, in order to celebrate Christmas together, they would face long and treacherous journeys to and from their homes, often in adverse weather conditions and during the night. 

In this way, the Feast of Saint Stephen first came about in the Middle Ages as a day on which people didn’t have to return to work. In this way, families could spend Christmas night together and then travel back home the following day in the light of day and in much safer conditions – and, of course, after enjoying the leftovers from the Christmas day meal!

Even though it is possible that this day was first observed over a thousand years ago, nowadays, Saint Stephen’s day still holds a special place on the Catalan calendar. Not only is it an additional holiday, it also constitutes a day to be spent in the presence of other family members with whom it was perhaps not possible to spend the Christmas day meal.

What’s more, on the 26thDecember in Catalonia, it is typical to feast on canelons  – which are rumoured to have been introduced into Catalan cuisine by Italian chefs during the 19thcentury. This rich béchamel pasta dish is traditionally stuffed with the leftover meat from the Christmas day dinner. This centrepiece dish for Sant Esteve day meals ensures that no food goes to waste and is normally a huge hit with the entire family.

In the UK, Saint Stephen’s day is also a national holiday and is most commonly known as Boxing Day on account of the traditional sports matches held on this day. Is the 26thDecember a holiday in your country? Let us know how you will be celebrating Saint Stephen’s day this year.

Whatever your plans this festive season, from all of us at BizFlats, we wish you a very merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year!

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