As Boxing Day has fallen on blog day (or Friday to the rest of you) I thought I would write a short blog on the subject. I was vaguely aware what it was all about; I knew it wasn’t about the sport of “Boxing” for instance, but I didn’t know anything else for definite other than that. I must confess I don’t like not knowing things so I decided to do some research and find out the facts.
The first thing that surprised me was that Boxing Day is largely not celebrated in America. However it is celebrated in Canada, although through the passage of time many differences have developed between the way we Brits and Canadians celebrate this day.
The second surprise I had was that the more I searched, the clearer it became that nobody actually quite knows where it all started. There are a number of theories and in fact it could be a little bit of all of them…or not. The one thing that all agree on though is the date: December 26th. But hereafter the theories of the origin of Boxing Day vary. Here are the main theories so take your pick!
- Some believe it dates back to the Middle Ages when the Church of England had ‘poor boxes’ in which they would collect money. These boxes would then be opened on Boxing Day and distributed amongst the poor.
- It could also be the tradition of trades people such as postmen, bin men etc receiving a box of goodies or money in recognition of great service throughout the year.
- Another possibility is that this tradition stems back to when the wealthy had servants who had to work on Christmas day serving their masters. Their masters would give them a box of gifts to take home the next day, which would be their day off.
- A tradition I wasn’t aware of was that during the Age of Exploration, when great sailing ships were setting off to discover new lands, a “Christmas Box” was a symbol of good luck. It would be a priest (bringing a bad name to Christianity in my opinion) who would place the box on the ship while it was still in port and the superstitious sailors would put money in it hoping for a safe journey. The priest would then seal it until the journey’s end when, upon safe return, he would say a mass of thanks and distribute the contents to the poor.
In many places Boxing Day is referred to as “St Stephens Day”. St Stephen was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Acts 6&7. It says that he was “Full of grace and power and was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was arrested and taken before the council, where he preached an amazing sermon to the religious leaders who took exception to him accusing them of putting to death the Messiah. He enraged them so much that they took him out and stoned him. Even while being stoned he still forgave his attackers. Now he is the type of hero I would like to celebrate on Boxing Day!
On a similar heroic note, the popular Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was set on Boxing Day (the feast of St Stephen). It tells the story of a king braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant . During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step by step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia(Modern day Czechoslovakia).
Let us take inspiration from “St. Stephen” and “St. Wenceslaus I”, continuing in the tradition of these two men, who stood strong against violent opposition and refused to compromise in the face of opposition and put themselves out to help the poor. Happy St Stephen’s Day!