Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated widely throughout British Commonwealth nations, and filled with history and traditions. It falls on December 26, the day after Christmas, and shares some similarities with both Christmas and Black Friday. It is a day when some people (mostly, poor people) have received gifts and money, but it is also in modern times a day that resembles, and perhaps to some degree rivals, Black Friday. There are tons of Boxing Day sales.
Yet, despite how popular and widespread the Boxing Day is, the origins of how the holiday came about are not entirely clear. There is a legend about The Good King Wenceslas, who when he was still the Duke of Bohemia back in the 10th century, was assessing his land, and happened to see a poor peasant trying to get wood during a severe winter storm. This sight made Wenceslas sympathetic, and he had his own extra supply of extra wine and food brought to the home of the peasant. This came the day after Christmas, and is one of the most enduring stories about Boxing Day.
However, during the Middle Ages, the Church of England might have played a more prominent part in establishing the Boxing Day holiday. Boxes were placed for churchgoers to give money on the Feast of Saint Stephen, which came on December 26. Traditionally, this box would be opened on the day after Christmas, and the money given to those less fortunate. This was the day when the poor got most of the money collected over the year given to charity.
An alternative history has it that Boxing Day was traditionally the day that masters gave their servants presents in boxes and a day off as a token of appreciation for their services. Peasants traditionally got the day off and could spend it at home, taking home boxes of gifts along with them, a privilege that the British aristocracy traditionally gave them in the spirit of charity. In a way, they would be able to enjoy a second Christmas day in a row, of sorts. Samuel Pepys even documented the existence of this tradition. Eventually, this day came to be given the name Boxing Day. This is where Boxing Day can more closely resemble an extension of Christmas, rather than what it has become known for in countries like Britain and Canada in the modern day, which is basically a shopping day full of deals designed to get people shopping. Mostly now, Boxing Day has become the British Commonwealth’s answer to “Black Friday” in the United States, and both days traditionally feature leftovers from the feast enjoyed on the more famous holiday the day before.
While the origins of the holiday remain relatively unknown, it was officially recognized as a holiday since 1871 in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada. In Britain, it features some big showdowns in soccer (European football) on television, much like Thanksgiving features a slate of NFL games for American audiences. Historically, the wealthiest in Britain would take advantage of the day to go out and engage in the sport of fox hunting, a sport which became another Boxing Day tradition. Parliament limited the way fox hunting can be done in 2005, which has had an effect on those who participate in fox hunting traditions for this holiday.
However, it is celebrated in a different way in some other places. In the Bahamas, there is a festival called Junkanoo. This bears some passing resemblance to the Mardi Gras festivals in which people dress up in costumes and parade down the streets. In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day, which is also sometimes called The Day of the Wren, there is a tradition of hunting wren, when a fake wren is essentially paraded through the streets of villages. Like in the Bahamas, the locals will also dress up in costumes. This is a Boxing Day tradition that historically stems from the Battle of Kinsdale in 1601, when a very vocal and loud wren spoiled the efforts of the Irish forces, who were attempting a sneak attack on the British.
By Charles Bordeau
Time – A Brief History of Boxing Day
Photo by asenat29 –Flickr