Boxing Day is usually celebrated on the following day after Christmas Day, which is 26 December. However, strictly speaking, Boxing Day is the first weekday after Christmas (as per the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary).
Like Christmas Day, Boxing Day is a public holiday. This means it is typically a non working day. When Boxing Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday the following Monday is the public holiday.
Why is 26 December called Boxing Day?
Traditionally, 26 December was the day to open the Christmas Box to share the contents with the poor. The Christmas box was a wooden or clay container where people placed gifts.
History of Boxing Day – Boxing Day origins
The exact etymology of the term “boxing” is unclear and there are several competing theories, none of which is definitive. We do see Christmas Boxes were used in different ways and have a common theme:
To protect ships
During the Age of Exploration, when great sailing ships were setting off to discover new land, A Christmas Box was used as a good luck device. It was a small container placed on each ship while it was still in port. It was put there by a priest, and those crewmen who wanted to ensure a safe return would drop money into the box. It was then sealed up and kept on board for the entire voyage.
If the ship came home safely, the box was handed over to the priest in the exchange for the saying of a Mass of thanks for the success of the voyage.
The Priest would keep the box sealed until Christmas when he would open it to share the contents with the poor.
To help the poor
An ‘Alms Box’ was placed in every church on Christmas Day, into which worshippers placed a gift for the poor of the parish. These boxes were always opened the day after Christmas, which is why that day became know as Boxing Day.
A present for the workers
Many poorly paid workers were required to work on Christmas Day and took the following day off to visit their families. As they prepared to leave, their employers would present them with Christmas boxes.
During the late 18th century, Lords and Ladies of the manor would “box up” their leftover food, or sometimes gifts and distribute them the day after Christmas to tenants who lived and worked on their lands.
And the giving tradition still continues today ……
The tradition of giving money to workers still continues today. It is customary for householders to give small gifts or monetary tips to regular visiting trades people (the mailman, milkman, garbos (Garbage truck), paper boy etc.) and, in some work places, for employers to give a Christmas bonus to employees.
In England, even Schools across the country gather together gifts to be put in Christmas Boxes that are sent to poorer countries.
St Stephen’s Day
Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen’s Day (when Good King Wenceslas looked out).
‘Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the Feast of Stephen………..’
Who was St Stephen?
Stephen lived in Rome and was the first man to be killed for believing in the teachings of Jesus.
His story is told in the Holy Bible, in the Book of Acts 6:1 to 8:2. It ends with his ultimate gift, given to those poor in spirit – forgiveness.
Traditionally, Boxing Day is the day when families get together.
It is a day of relaxing, watching sports and playing board games with the family.
… and then came Shopping
In recent times, some shops have broken from tradition and started opening on Boxing Day to start the New Year sales. Hundreds of people now spend Boxing Day morning in queues outside shops, waiting to be the first to dive for the sales racks as the doors opened.
Personally, I find this is a sad reflection of what we as a society are choosing to do on this wonderful day. At a time when Boxing Day was about ‘giving to others’ we seem to be trending towards ‘what can we get for ourselves’.
We have nearly every other day to shop… maybe this is one day to reclaim!