The Hunting of the Wrens

There are many unique holiday celebrations around the world.  The Hunting of the Wrens and the Wren Boy Procession in Ireland is most definitely unique.  The celebrations are held on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26th, each year.  In ancient times the young boys in the village would hunt down a wren, kill it, and hang it on a holly bush that was then paraded through the town.  The townspeople would dress in hay costumes and follow the procession through town.  Feathers from the dead wren were sold to villagers for a penny and all the money was used to hold a dance for the town.  Today the celebration has changed.  The boys now search for a hidden fake wren.  It is still placed atop a pole and then paraded through town.  People in town, or mummers, dress in masks, straw suits, and silly costumes and parade through town to traditional music.  They still ask for money as they parade but now the funds go to charity.

So why chase this poor wren all around?  The tradition can be traced back to the druids and celtic mythology and the trickery used by the wren to defeat the eagle as king of the birds.   It could be that the wren betrayed the Irish to the Vikings in an important battle.  Maybe it was the wren singing in a bush that betrayed St. Stephen’s hiding place and led to his martyrdom?  There is no definitive reason for the parades and as with many traditions, it happens because it happens.  There is an official Wren Boy song– give it a listen.  The lyrics shed some light on the importance of getting some donations during the procession: The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.   Not sure I’m all that in a hurry to bring this tradition to the US!

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