"Hail! Hail! The king of all birds, may you bring us good fortune and wealth!
Give us a penny
for we haven't any,
and we'll drink a glass to your health!"
Every year, on St Stephen's Day (December 26th), the wren - the king of all birds - is hunted and killed so that he may be born again to reign another year.
It is an old Irish custom to bury the wren with kingly ceremony, his body brought door to door so that money may be collected for the funeral which should include enough ale for all.
It is a lesser known tale of how the little wren came to be the king of all birds in the first place, probably because it happened so long ago. It was back not many centuries after the great dragons who had once ruled the earth had shape shifted into the feather winged creatures we now recognize as the birds. They had not the harmonious organization they do now and would fight over which of their breeds should get the trees for nesting, which should eat seeds, and which insects, which of them should fly South in the Winters, and even whether the early or late ones ought to get the worms. They realized that without a leader to unify and guide them, there would be no peace. So they decided to have a contest to determine who among them would be the king. It was the eagle who suggested a test of endurance: whoever could stay in the air the longest would be crowned king. Of course the eagle thought he would win easily, but not even the littlest of them doubted their abilities or divine right to royalty, and all bravely answered the challenge. The contest began with all the birds taking to the wind and hovering over the wide field. After some time, the least ambitious among them began to reconsider whether they even wanted the duty of the crown, and the buzzards and the crows were the first to land. Those who were the busiest began to be concerned over the time they were spending on this contest when they could be working on their own projects and chores, and the hummingbirds, finches and little sparrows touched down too. The contest went on for hours and finally it seemed to be a match of brute strength and will. And one by one, all the birds tired and landed, leaving the sky to the eagle. When he saw he was the only one still in flight, he too dropped to the earth, but just before he touched the ground, the wren who had been riding on the eagle's back, kicked up and flew around the field in triumph. His minute weight was never noticed by the brawny bird of prey, but since the wren had stayed in the air the longest, technically he had won - the little cheater.
So the wren is the king of all birds, and has since realized that not all the duties and responsibilities and sacrifices of leaders are as glorious as he had imagined.
[Note: no wrens were harmed in the making of this story - not even the little stuffed featherball in the photo.]