So, today is Boxing Day here in the U.K. – the day after Christmas Day that serves to stretch the holiday out just that little bit longer. The day is a national holiday, which most people traditionally spent with family and friends, extending the party mood with further feasting and drinking. But nowadays hundreds – or more probably, thousands – of people head off to the big stores to grab the bargains in the Boxing Day sales. When I was younger, the sales didn’t happen until after New Year’s Eve, and were aptly called the January Sales.
I can’t say I like this new meaning of Boxing Day. I have lovely memories of the entire Christmas period being so much more peaceful. On Boxing Day years ago my parents would herd we three children into the car to visit relatives who lived some distance away – or we would be visited instead. I still can’t see the attraction of being trampled to death amidst crowds of people fighting to get at sale items. I suppose I’m just old fashioned (or just old!). But the ‘Sales Bug’ seems to feature in many countries on Boxing Day.
What I really want to think about today is the origin of the term ‘Boxing Day’. In Britain, a ‘Christmas Box’ is the name given to a Christmas present. The tradition of giving money and other gifts to the needy could well date back to the Middle Ages. It is thought that the ‘box’ could refer to the Alms Box that was placed inside churches to collect money for the poor. Still other sources tell us that the ‘box’ could refer to the custom in late Roman times whereby metal boxes were left outside of churches to collect offerings connected to the Feast of St. Stephen – which fell on the same day as Boxing Day.
Another tradition revolves around December 26th being ‘a day off” for servants in more affluent homes, when they would receive a Christmas box from their master. The servants would, in turn, go home and give Christmas boxes to their families. As always, there are several possible origins for the term, Boxing Day. The tradition regarding the custom of gift-giving to servants, however, is the more widely known.
Boxing Day has also become associated with a number of social activities (other than shopping!). In Britain in recent times, the day has become widely associated with sport. There are many horse racing meetings all over the country, as well as football (soccer) matches.
Fox hunting is still carried out in various places, although, since the ban on actually hunting foxes with dogs (2004) the dogs follow artificially laid trails. Some British people also show their daring by taking part in the activity of swimming in the freezing cold seas around our coasts.
There are also various activities for charities, including fun-runs. Perhaps many of these sports originated from the need/desire to wear off some of the excess calories devoured on Christmas Day!
In some of the countries with British roots, such as Australia, Boxing Day sports also take place. But, in Australia, Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so the sports differ accordingly. Cricket is commonly played on Boxing Day . . .
. . . as well as swimming in the (warm!) seas. Picnics are enjoyed on the beach instead of the piping-hot roast dinners served in Britain, and outdoor dancing is enjoyed (at least it was – back in the1930s):
Well, tomorrow is an ‘ordinary’ day – although many people will still be off work and schools are closed until a few days into the new year. Perhaps we now have time to regain some sense of normality before the parties of New Year’s Eve loom!