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Boxing Day

This post is going out on December 26, which you may note on your calendar is Boxing Day. This isn’t a holiday we celebrate in the U.S. So, what do you think this holiday is all about? (Think a second – I’ll wait!)

I’ll confess that I thought this holiday was about boxing up the decorations from Christmas to get ready for the new year. I was going to write a lovely post on the theme of putting away the old and preparing for the new year. That will have to wait, though.

I was wrong about Boxing Day.

We can look at Boxing Day from a historical perspective and at the modern-day celebration in countries like Canada and the U.K. With the historical look back, we’ll solve a musical mystery, and with the 21st century view, we’ll figure out what that calendar designation really means.

Where Did Boxing Day Come From?

Historians aren’t really sure when, where, and how Boxing Day came to be, but the few solid theories place the origins of the holiday in England in the Middle Ages. Good King WenceslasBack then, December 26 was designated as the Feast of St. Stephen, and the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” gives us a clue as to what happened:

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

Upon asking his staff about the poor man, the king then decides to gather food and fuel for the poor people in his kingdom, and the song ends with this message:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

This song is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (known as Svatý Václav in Czech), who lived in the 10th century. The song itself was written and published in 1853. It points to two traditions that may have formed the origins of Boxing Day.

For one, English servants in the Middle Ages would have worked on Christmas Day then had the following day off. Their aristocratic bosses would have given them boxes of leftover food and practical gifts on that day, and the servants would have their own second Christmas celebration.

Another tradition was for Anglican churches to have boxes for collecting alms during the season of Advent. On the day after Christmas, these boxes would be broken open and their contents distributed to the poor. Similarly, ocean-going ships would carry locked boxes of valuables, and if the voyages went well, these boxes would be given to the church for distribution the poor on December 26 as well.

Which one of these traditions evolved into Boxing Day? No one really knows. Maybe it doesn’t matter, though, because Boxing Day is very different today.

Boxing Day in the 21st Century

Boxing Day is not so much about charity these days. Rather, it’s about a more casual continuation of the Christmas celebration (including those leftovers!), watching football (soccer) matches on TV, and massive sales at the stores. It’s a bank holiday in the U.K., Canada, and other countries, and many people don’t work that day. In fact, it sounds kind of like the Black Friday after Thanksgiving here in America.

What does that mean for us?

Well, first of all, I have never celebrated Boxing Day, so if you do, please leave a comment below and tell us what it’s like in your part of the world!

What I like, though, is the idea that the Christmas celebration can continue beyond December 25. You may know that the Christian calendar actually allows twelve days for the Christmas season until the celebration of Epiphany on January 6. (Yup, that’s where that carol came from!) In actual practice, though, it seems like we’re in a bit of a rush to get past the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and back to our routines at work and home. Heck, I even thought this blog post would be about boxing up those decorations and getting ready for the next thing!

Maybe we could all take a breath and enjoy one more day of Christmas – or maybe two, or three, or twelve! We can take a little bit more time to enjoy the fruits of our labor, to share the love with our family and friends, and to tell a few more people why they are important to us. Maybe we could even honor the origins of the holiday and share something with those less fortunate than us.

What do you think? Do you recognize Boxing Day? What do you do in the days after Christmas? Please leave a comment below.

2 comments… add one
  • I never celebrated boxing day. However, I grew-up with the tradition of observing 12 days of Christmas. The tree stays up & remains lit. Christmas music is played. Celebrations with extended family happen.

    In my opinion, it makes it feel a little less anticlimactic when the celebration continues rather than comes to a halt. And it affords me the permission not to rush the packing away of decorations.

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