Sunday, 26 December 2010

December - Boxing Day

When I was a child, I thought that 'Boxing Day' got its name from the tradition of attending or watching sporting events on the day after Christmas Day. One of my father's favourite sports was boxing, so the TV would often be tuned to the station broadcasting a boxing match. As I grew older, and developed an interest in history, I discovered that my idea was mistaken.

Although the origins of Boxing Day have become obscured by time, it is  thought that it stems from priests distributing money from the alms boxes which had been given for needy people in the days leading up to Christmas. Early in the 19th century the churches in Britain placed boxes for alms to enable the churchgoers to contribute  for the poor and the downtrodden. Whatever money was amassed throughout the period of Advent i.e. during the four Sundays preceding Christmas, was taken out from these boxes and distributed among the unfortunate on the 26th of December which is the Feast of St. Stephen. St. Stephen was a Roman, appointed by Christ's apostles as one of  seven deacons responsible for caring for the widows and the poor.

Good King Wenceslas is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Saint Stephen. Employers and other wealthy people adopted the tradition and began giving servants and tradesmen gifts as a way of saying thank you for good service throughout the year. Servants would have to work on Christmas Day, but were rewarded by having the following day off. Their masters and mistresses would reward them with a Christmas Box full of gifts for them and food to take to their families. Some would give them the leftovers from their Christmas meal.

The modern "tip" or gratuity to workers such as postmen, dustmen (rubbish collectors) window cleaners and paper boys, is simply a thank you for good service throughout the year.

Boxing Day is celebrated on the 26th December each year in most Commonwealth Countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and is usually taken as a bank or public holiday.