by Leigh Lundin
Tis the day after Christmas
And after the fray,
Comes the burning question:
What the heck’s Boxing Day?
Is it regifting, returning?
Reboxing for eBay?
Please tell us, CB,
What the heck’s Boxing Day?
It’s that time of year again, the second day of Christmas, not the twelfth day + 1, as some seem to think. Other misconceptions surround Boxing Day, even in countries where it’s officially celebrated.
Little can be said with certainty about Boxing Day except it’s
- celebrated on the 26th of December (or the next work day),
- a medieval observation (possibly earlier) often associated with St. Stephen,
- celebrated in most English-speaking and Commonwealth nations and some European countries,
- associated with those less fortunate,
- nothing to do with repacking, recycling, or getting rid of boxes.
Some contend the ‘boxing’ in Boxing Day refers to the poor boxes contributed to by men of means for distribution to those in need. This practice may provide the link to St. Stephen.
Another tradition says that after servants of the wealthier classes drudged through Christmas Day supporting families of the rich, the wealthy donated food and goods for serfs, servants, and merchants to have their own lesser celebration the following day. As the New York Times noted, a mid-19th century British store sold pre-packaged Boxing Day ‘gifts’ for servants– the materials to sew their own uniforms.
|Boxing Day sale example|
Most current and former Commonwealth Nations designate Boxing Day as an official holiday, including Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and even Hong Kong. An exception is India, although regions within India continue to celebrate the 26th as a day for helping the poor. Others of the forty or so nations include Austria, Danmark, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Greenland, Ireland, Italy, Malawi, Nederlands, Nigeria, Norway, Switzerland, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
While other countries observe Boxing Day, the holiday passes virtually unrecognized in the US, except for the concept of year-end bonuses. Although it’s difficult for 21st century minds to link slavery and humanity, plantation owners may have followed the spirit of a ‘little Christmas’, supposedly giving slaves time off following Christmas.
While modern observations treat Boxing Day as a discount sales shopping day, it’s traditionally about giving as described by one of our older Christmas carols, Good King Wenceslas:
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel.
"Bring me meat and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
You and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
They set out together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather
"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can trod no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.