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When You Wish Upon a Wren


Boxing Day feels like a time for closure, a day to reflect upon the year that has passed and on the year to come. In some ways, it makes me sad. In others, it brings hope.

Prior to the recent Call & Response project, I spent a few years writing a novel called A Flight of Ordinary Madness, about an unhinged artist who imagines her husband’s return from the dead. This doesn’t exactly work out, as the doppelgänger becomes increasingly critical and jealous of his wife, who must fight to reclaim her sanity with a talking pelican as her only friend.

Many of the plot points in the story are tied to holidays, beginning with Halloween and culminating on Christmas. Boxing Day provides the narrative denouement, and it also wraps up some of the underlying themes, several of which are tied to birds. I tend not to think of Boxing Day in terms of gifts, but in terms of St. Stephen’s Day or Wren Day instead.

Here’s a footnote from the novel, about the Boxing Day tradition:

In Gaelic tradition, Boxing Day, or St. Stephen’s Day, is also known as Wren’s Day. Customarily, a gang of village boys (“Wrenboys,” “Strawboys,” or “Mummers”) would hunt, kill, and pike the bird and then parade its dead body about the town to solicit contributions for a community celebration. Most contemporary interpretations employ a faux bird in lieu of a real one, though holiday wren-hunting is still practiced to some extent on the Isle of Man. In England, Boxing Day is the only day on which it is not considered bad luck to kill a wren.

Alternate forms of the traditional practice dictated that the boys would simply catch the wren and carry it around to each household. The bird would then listen to the townspeople’s wishes and supposedly bestow good fortune throughout the year in accordance with their pleas.

– footnote from A Flight of Ordinary Madness

If you happen to see a wren today, make a wish for the coming year. The bird may be grateful for not getting piked, and perhaps it will grant your request. You never know about these magical traditions. Birds are mysterious creatures.



From → Birds, Books, Weird Things

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