Abigail Deutsch at Harper's Magazine:
Last Boxing Day, in my annual attempt to figure out what Boxing Day is, I embarked on an Internet expedition from the confines of my chilly bedroom in New York City. Before long, I came across this tidbit on Time magazine’s website: “The Irish still refer to the holiday as St. Stephen’s Day, and they have their own tradition called hunting the wren, in which boys fasten a fake wren to a pole and parade it through town.”
Hunting the wren, I thought. I know what that is. I was sure I’d seen the ceremony before, watched a procession of boys in tunics march over a misty hillock on a cold day, one piping a melancholy tune while the others hoisted a platform woven of branches and reeds. The platform supported a delicate bird—until, quite abruptly, the bird turned into a woman…..
Once the Celtic haze had lifted, I recognized, with some disappointment, that I couldn’t possibly have witnessed this scene. I glanced across the room, toward the low bookshelf that houses my favorite childhood paperbacks. And suddenly I felt certain of the vision’s source. It was a series of fantasy books I’d read and reread between eight and eighteen—a series that transported me from New York City to the foggy shores of Wales, that ushered me into King Arthur’s tent on the eve of the Battle of Badon, that both encouraged and capitalized on my mania for British folklore.